College Applications: A Roundtable Discussion

Seniors of the Hilltopper

Earlier this year, the seniors of the Hilltopper sat down to discuss the trials and triumphs of the college application process. At the time that this was recorded, Assistant Editor Ananya Vasireddy had recently learned she had been accepted to Stanford University. World News Editor Sriya Guduru and Editor-in-Chief Melinda Reed had learned about an hour earlier that they were accepted to Georgetown University.


Note: This is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the college application process for everyone, but rather the people involved in the discussion.


Melinda Reed: When did you start— not when did you start looking at colleges, but when did you start worrying about college? I’m going to start by saying it was third grade for me. What was it for you guys?


Vatsala Swamy: I would say— oh, go ahead.


Ananya Vasireddy: Eighth grade. When I was applying to the Academy.


Sriya Guduru: For me, it was first grade, when my dad made me memorize all the Ivy Leagues and their locations and their acceptance rates, and I had a poster on my bulletin board— yeah, from that moment forth I was stressed.


VS: I would say mine was freshman year, especially when I was struggling a little freshman year, I was like “Hmm. Maybe I won’t actually be able to get into college.” Because I always had the thought that college is the next logical progression, right? By some force of nature, whether I try or not, it’ll happen. But when I didn’t do so hot freshman year, I was like, “Hold on. Maybe I actually have to worry about this.”


MR: I guess I think that something it sounds like all of us had in common, we were raised in households, and this is not the case for everybody, where it was kind of expected we would go to college. Not only go to college, [but also] that you are going to try to go to the best. Whatever— however that is defined by your family. So how would you say your family has influenced your opinions? I know, Sriya, that your sister went to Johns Hopkins.


SG: Right. For me, I guess like— the whole immigrant story of our parents coming here is to make sure we had the best opportunities for college. That’s so true in my case. For all my life,  I’ve just heard, my parents have always been like, “We just want the best for you. And a better life for you, and a better college.” They were educated, but I think like it’s always been drilled in that [you should] be the best of the best in whatever way. And then growing up, yes, with a sister who was always a STEM genius and got into Hopkins was always just different for me. Because we had differing ideas of college and good grades because she was always like a physics kid and I was never that… Even within the college subfield, I think for my parents it was really weird for them to start looking at liberal arts colleges as well, and schools for the humanities, because my sister was never like that, basically.


AV: So, I’ll start with the Academy. Throughout middle school, I was really into writing and humanities. And then in eighth grade, my best friends… were applying to the Academy. And I was like, “Should I apply to the Academy?” And then I was like, “Okay, I’ll apply to the Academy!” And I applied to the Academy, I got in, then I went to high school, and I was like uhhh… It felt really weird being in a really STEM-oriented high school, I was kind of [saying] “What is going on?” I didn’t know what I was doing, Math Analysis hit me like a truck. It was an experience. And for a long time I was really conflicted about what I wanted to do because at this point I was really set on a STEM career, and my parents have a STEM background. And it’s going to sound strange, but I guess the expectation was always that I go into STEM. But it’s not like my parents enforced it or anything, they never really said you should go into STEM. It’s just what I grew up around and what my friends were doing. And I liked it, too. I grew to like it junior year and sophomore year even though freshman year I kind of struggled. And when I ended up applying [to college], I realized that I had a variety of interests, including STEM, and I made sure that I reflected that part of myself on my applications because I wanted to make sure wherever I went would… allow me to foster my passion for STEM and that kind of stuff and also gender studies and the humanities side of my interests.


(Kunal Kumar joins the call.)


MR: Yeah. That’s— hey Kunal, how’s it going?


Kunal Kumar: Hey.


MR: We were just talking about how our families or our parents have influenced our ideas about what we should do in college. And now, I kind of have a follow up question to that, since I’m the only one here who did not go to the Academy. How did the Academy shape your view of college? Because it’s a tight knit group, a very close, hard working environment— how did that shape your image of what college should be?


VS: Well, Mel, I just want to answer your previous question and then I’ll answer [the second]. But I think, I don’t know, I think I have— I don’t want to say an interesting take, because it’s not like “Oh, I have different parents, haha” but I think the way my parents were raised, especially my dad, was very minimalistic. You just have to get the grades, and you have to go to college, and then you have to get a job. And he has aimed to raise me in the same way, but obviously that doesn’t translate to the way schools and colleges are here. You have to have a good amount of extracurriculars and your character really matters as well. And so— my parents’ philosophy, if I had to sum it up in essence, it would be “Do your best, but don’t ask me questions.” In the best way, they’re quite detached, they always come up at the end. At the end of the marking period, they’re like “what are your grades?” Even when it comes to college. Like today, my dad was asking me, “What colleges are you applying to again? What is your major?” It’s kind of— not lonely, in a sense, but kind of like you’re navigating with a blindfold because… my parents don’t tell me what to do. They don’t say, “Hey, maybe you should try this.” They kind of have their notion in their mind, they passive aggressively suggest things, and then it’s kind of like two pressures: what do I want to do and how much [are] my parents’ motivations… influencing the things that I should do? I think while a parent’s job might be to guide their kids in this process, sometimes it can also be a little distracting, add[ing] another layer the student has to deal with. 


SG: Well, Vats, I very much so admire everything you’ve done in high school.


VS: Oh, that was not the point of that, but [thanks].


SG: Mel, with your other question, [about] the Academy. So I applied to college for poli sci, I didn’t apply to a single college for STEM. I knew from freshman year I was not going to be a STEM kid, but I was stuck in a STEM school. And at the time, it was… sucky, I guess…  I kind of just grew detached from my coursework because I was just like, “I don’t really care about this. I’m not having fun. I’m not happy. I know this isn’t what I want to do with my life.” But then I just found— in my junior year especially, my junior year was so difficult, but I got to take the classes I wanted to, achieve positions [within the clubs I liked]. So it’s not like the Academy was in any way constricting, but I think most people who go in have the notion, “Go into the Academy; you’re going into STEM.” But I think this year especially there are so many of us who don’t even want to do engineering, even though that is what the Academy is going towards. A lot of us, even within STEM, want to go into med, which is not what the Academy is for. So even though our classes are oriented a certain way, going to Hills is great because it allowed me to explore the rest of my interests and realize, “This isn’t what I want to do.” But I was just really glad to be at Hills for this whole experience. 


KK: I disagree a little bit, but I also agree. I do think [the Academy] has limited— not our options, but our ability to explore other options. So going into freshman year, going into high school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I was kind of open to anything. But the Academy really showed us, pushed us towards STEM. I feel like because of that, I wasn’t allowed to find my own interests. But the one thing I did get out of it was that I’m not really into STEM.




SG: I feel like I’ve heard that story with so many Academy kids, who go to the Academy and are like “never mind.”


KK: Yeah, I just feel…  like I’m in a limbo. I know I don’t really want to do something, but I have been exposed to it and have gotten through it, albeit with a lot of struggles and stuff, but I haven’t been exposed to other things. I mean, obviously we can all take our own unconventional routes, but I feel like with how I’ve been raised and how the Academy has been structured it’s been a little bit difficult, and it’s just been easier to do whatever you’re told. So with that, I feel like we’re kind of exposed a lot to STEM and not allowed to develop our own interests. But I’m hoping that that is something we’ll be able to do at college, which is why I’m hoping to go to a college that allows me to take a wide range of classes. 


MR: I think that’s a really good point, and I was going to ask: so how has your approach to the college admissions process been kind of course-correcting for you? What schools are you looking at in order to find what your passion is and explore a little bit?


VS: So I think I can answer that question, in light of recent events. Okay, so I’ll start off by answering the other question, so just— listen. (Laughs.) I think the mentality and the learning culture of the Academy is here’s all this stuff, you put it together, you figure it out. If you can do it, great, you have the knowledge. If not, you know, that’s too bad. And so I feel like that’s a very STEM way of learning, a very technical way of learning. Spending four years in that kind of environment, you kind of— well, I kind of look for other things. When I was starting my college search, I was really looking for some liberal arts school, because I felt that way of learning, that structure of learning, is quite different. It’s very rich to me, it seems like you feed off of others, you’re not so lonely in it. It’s discussion-based. It’s a lot of— you’re looking at precedent a lot, right? You’re reading things… and so when I started, and even the school I applied early to, was very heavily liberal arts. And I kind of sacrificed the STEM aspect of it to satisfy my need to learn in a different way. I feel like reflecting on that, that mentality has definitely shifted. I realized that you don’t have to do a full 180, but college learning is going to be different. It’s going to be more individualized. It’s going to be more of what you make of it, and you don’t have to sacrifice your goals in the future to get something you feel like you’ve missed out on in the past. So I think that’s definitely something I’m going to take into account. I definitely think I have already based on other schools I’ve already applied to and really think about what I want and how this is going to help me in the future instead of trying to fix past mistakes.


AV: I just want to say, I really love the Academy. I’m really glad I went, mainly because of the people I met there, and the experience I had with my friends. But the Academy gave me major imposter syndrome. I felt really insecure about everything, like my grades… just everything. I would’ve never dreamed of applying to a school like Stanford; I literally was so sure I was going to get rejected. And I think I only gained that confidence myself midway through junior year. And two and a half years is a long way to go, being really unsure of yourself and just not feeling too hot about your grades or whatever it is. I know so many people who have insane grades, and insane everythings, but they still feel insecure about their intelligence. I don’t know. It’s hard because it can definitely affect what colleges you apply to just because you have this wack perception of yourself because of the culture you’ve been experiencing for the past four years. That being said, the people in the Academy are some of the best people I’ve ever met. I don’t know. I would go again, but it was hard the first two and a half years.


KK: I think that with the people— like I totally agree with you about the imposter syndrome and insecurities, that’s so common. And that wasn’t the intention. I think what the purpose of the Academy was was to have a bunch of really smart kids in an environment where they’re surrounded by each other and can motivate each other. You see how smart other people are and it’s supposed to make you want to be as smart, and it’s supposed to be a collaborative environment, but that’s not really what it was. There’s definitely tons of instances where everyone is comparing themselves to others. I feel like the Academy has been too extreme, being exposed to this group of people. But I hope at college it won’t be like that. I hope we’ll still be surrounded by a bunch of smart people who will not only help our own self motivation, but [also] will be part of a collaborative environment. I think that may happen because we’ll all have different interests and we’ll be pursuing different things and working towards different goals. I think the imposter syndrome is a downfall of the Academy.


SG: I wrote my NHS essay about imposter syndrome. With the Academy, and what Kunal was saying about the competitive versus collaborative environment, I think it’s just hard… Mel, I’m sure you felt this way at Magnet at some point. I love the people in the Academy, but it’s hard when you put a bunch of high achieving kids together in the same grade and expect them just to… freshman year especially, we weren’t as mature emotionally as we are now. Now I want the best for my friends, and I’d like to think I always have too, but after you get a test back in Analysis and Calc, you see that grade, and you hear everyone else talking around you like, “Aw, I got a 97, gosh darn!” For me, the only reason I started feeling more comfortable in the Academy is— this sounds bad, but I think I was never considered competition, because people knew from freshman year that I [wasn’t interested in STEM]. And with the 46 too, I always had this sinking feeling that I’m the bottom 23. But when I got to my junior year, I was able to take humanities classes, like Human Geo with Mel— 


MR: You realized that, compared to the rest of us, you’re very, very smart.


SG: (Laughs.) Right. It was just so great for me. So in college, like what Kunal was saying, like how he approached it. It’s kind of like— okay, for me, location matters a lot because I am not a big city person. I think New York City— honestly, I kind of miss it in the pandemic— but I would never want to go to school there. I looked at more college towns, like D.C. and Boston, [which are] kind of cities, kind of not. Besides that, I wanted liberal arts schools that were really focused on fostering collaboration, and just schools where I think I would have really good opportunities as an undergraduate student because that’s kind of rare for some colleges, since they normally pass it off to grad students. So that and research opportunities, because I just want to be able to explore things on my own. Also, studying abroad was a huge thing for me. I don’t even know if that’s going to be a reality with corona, but I want to go abroad so bad and get out of New Jersey and experience things on my own. So, I guess I should be thankful to the Academy, for making me realize I didn’t want to do anything related to the Academy. 


AV: I guess I have a different perspective, since the Academy made me realize I did want to go into STEM which is kind of bonkers if you think about it because I really just went without even being sure. When I applied to Stanford, my academic interests were biomedical computation, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, and music. And that was the order they were in. I made sure that I put everything I wanted to do in there, and I was like, “If they reject me, they reject me” because I want to go to a school that lets me do what I want, and doesn’t limit me to just my grade in a math class. 


MR: Yeah, you guys are bringing up a lot of good points about what you are looking for in a college. So Sriya, you said location, location, location, obviously. Ananya, where they kind of give you a lot of freedom. I know personally, service was a very big thing for me. I didn’t want to go to a school where it was just the elite getting eliter, if that’s a phrase. (Laughs.) I think education is something to be shared and spread, and that’s why I was looking for schools with strong service [backgrounds]. So, what other things were you looking for? When you were finally creating this list— what year was this for you guys, sophomore or junior year?


VS: Mel, the list is not— 


KK: Yeah, it’s ongoing. Not sophomore year, that’s way too early. 


AV: It’s still ongoing, yeah.


SG: The definitive list for me, it started junior year summer, but that’s when I made my Google Sheet and was like, “Okay, time to think about college!” But before that, in my mind, I was kind of like “These colleges look cool, this would be fun” but I only started putting things into motion that summer. 


KK: Yeah, I never actually— I always had certain names in mind, but without really knowing anything about them. So like Duke. I always really liked Duke, just because their basketball team is really good and I liked it and I knew there was always a way to watch games at the stadium. But I really didn’t know anything about it. So I started actually researching towards the end of the summer and beginning of [senior] year. And, of course, I still am, because it is a never-ending grind. 


AV: The only name I really had in mind was Stanford, because it was the only university I had visited other than Berkeley. Like, literally the only one, because of COVID. But I was like, “There is no way [I’m getting in here].” So up to junior year, I didn’t even know if I could get into a university. I wasn’t even sure what kind of universities I should be aiming for, because I guess junior year and senior year and sophomore year are pretty pivotal turning points in your high school career depending on what you do. And I was like “I have no idea what to aim for.” I also think the Academy kind of screwed up my perceptions of what it takes to get somewhere. So I really had no idea what I was doing. Then I gained confidence. I was like, “You know what, I’ll apply.” But making my list was so hard because I didn’t know where I could get in and where I had a chance. So I was not confident about any of the schools I had on my list. I don’t know, it was an interesting process. But I started literally in September or August of this year, so… 


VS: I totally agree with that, and I think the whole— I took my ACT, and I took the SAT last December and I did terribly. I always had the intention that I would take another test, since I knew if I actually studied I would’ve done well. The whole standardized testing being postponed [threw me off]. I took my ACT in October of this year. And so I feel like that significantly shifted it, because I didn’t know where I could apply. My perception of this whole college admissions process is that they look at your numbers first. Then they look at everything else. I wasn’t sure what those numbers were, to actually apply to these schools, but I guess when looking for schools— kind of the opposite of Sriya— I look for big cities. I feel like that’s where I’ll have the most opportunities, because I’m not sure exactly what I want to do yet. And I feel like having an abundance of opportunities in a big city will help me rather than hurt me. I also think that going to a bigger school would help me, just because I’ve spent so much time in the Academy and it’s a small class size. I want to see what it’s like… I also looked at the clubs schools had programs. And at first I was like, “That’s so weird, why would I base my future off this one club this school has, and just apply there because of that and think it’s my dream school because of that one thing.” That’s where, thankfully, my parents were not involved, because they probably thought that’s ridiculous. But I think that’s actually very important, because what you do outside of your studies… really make the whole college experience what it is. You don’t hear people talk about college and [say] “I studied, and I loved all my courses.” They often talk about what they do outside of their courses and I think that should be emphasized more, to look for that. It shouldn’t be ridiculed, because it’s going to be your life. That’s going to be your life for the next four years and if you can’t find something you would enjoy at that place, other than just the hours you spend in class, then that is not the school for you. You know what I mean?


AV: Yeah, I specifically looked for Indian fusion acapella groups. 


VS: Wait, do you know Penn Masala?


AV: Yes! But they only accept guys.


VS: I’m the same, but I [looked for] dance teams, since I do both classical and fusion, and I was— 


SG: Vatsala, UCLA Nashaa!




SG: Okay, wait, Mel, Mel, Mel. Melinda Reed. 


MR: Yes.


SG: Can I ask a question?


MR: Yes.


SG: Alright, so Vatsala kind of mentioned this with her ACT, but how do you think corona affected you guys applying for college? A whole big pandemic, it’s kind of scary.


AV: Okay, I just want to say— if you don’t have subject tests, okay? We didn’t have subject tests and we were fine. Do not waste your money and risk your health for subject tests. 


SG: I totally agree. My subject tests literally got cancelled three times and the last time I was in this basement, crying. I was like, “I’m not going to get into college, because no subject tests”— I was texting Mel, and she was like, “You’re literally stupid. Stop. The college we want to go to, we can submit AP tests.”  


(At this point, Zoe Tweedie— another Academy senior recently accepted to Stanford University— joins the conversation.)


Zoe Tweedie: Like in regards to the ACT, I got a 34 on my ACT, but I felt like I could’ve taken it and done better. So I don’t know if corona helped me with that. And also with the SAT II tests. I feel like in a normal year I probably would’ve penalized for that. 


MR: Yeah, I think the coronavirus has wreaked a lot of havoc on everyone’s lives. But in the case of Georgetown, where they recommend three subject tests, you could take advantage of the changes because of the coronavirus and not have to take the subject tests, which was a blessing. 


SG: But then, on the scary side of things, I was scrolling through Reddit, as I do, as probably all of you do… there are some crazy numbers. Because a lot of schools are going test optional, a lot more people are applying. I heard that the UC [University of California state schools] portal completely crashed the day before. I heard some crazy stat— like 200,000 people were applying to one of the UCs. I don’t know… Duke saw a 30% [increase], like some double digit crazy numbers, in early’s [early decision applications] because so many people are applying. That’s what makes this process scary with corona. 


AV: Also, gap year students— 378 kids, according to the Stanford GroupMe, took a gap year. So they’re in our grade and are going to graduate with us because they took a gap year between high school and college. One-fifth or so of our class is going to be a year older than us. It’s just crazy. I don’t know if you think about it… I didn’t think about it when I was applying. It’s really different now because of the coronavirus. Also, admissions rates seem to be getting lower, according to everything I’ve been hearing. They estimate that Stanford’s is going to be 3% now, or around there. It’s insane. Everything is changing this year.


KK: I was going to say, the biggest thing for me— I don’t know if you guys talked about this before I joined— but not being able to visit physically, and this was what Ananya was saying earlier, was kind of tough. All the information I got, I mean you can read Reddit forums and Quora and stuff like that, but that stuff is a very select group of people, so the other way I got information about colleges was through virtual info sessions. And even those were very generic and you can’t get a sense of what the college’s “vibe” was like. At least for me. So you want to see the campus, get a good sense of what the people are like and what a typical day is like. It kind of made me unsure and unclear [on what to look for].


AV: Yeah, not visiting any other college other than two made making a list really hard. I don’t know, it’s kind of crazy to commit to a school you’ve never been to before. Like, that’s really scary. It’s a problem that, I mean, seniors our year are going to face but I don’t know if it’s going to continue. 


SG: Oh for sure. 


MR: Yeah, I mean, and it’s also whether or not you have the resources. I think a lot of schools on the West Coast, like a lot of students, aren’t able to go to the West Coast. Or at least if they get in, it’s a financial decision, it’s a scheduling thing. Um, but you guys mentioned something that I think we need to talk about as a generation, which is (claps) the toxic environment of Reddit threads! 


(Everyone laughs and groans) 


SG: Oh my god, no. 


MR: And all these apps and websites created for students like us to talk about college that also managed to give us diagnosable anxiety disorders. So… 


VS: Well, I think— sorry Mel…


MR: No, No! I think it’s just something we need to talk about. 


VS: Well, I think that before we bash them, I will just say that for the past few weeks, watching those college decision reactions videos had been like crack cocaine. 


SG: Completely agree. 


VS: And I guess it’s not as toxic as Reddit and stuff. But what that has done for me has really shown me that in the end, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be fine because I don’t really remember, I’ve watched a lot of these videos, but I don’t really remember one person being like “This sucks! I got rejected from every single school and I hate the school that I’m going to go to.” They always seem fairly content with where they end up, and so I think it has definitely been something that made me feel good in the end. Like yeah, I’m going to be fine because I’ve done all the hard work, there’s physically nothing I can do after I submit my application, and I’m going to be fine just like these thousands of other people have been fine. And yes you can compare yourself, yes you can ask them for their stats and all that but I think the true essence of those college decision reaction videos is to show that you’re not going to get accepted, well most people are not going to get accepted, into every single school. And that is for a reason! Either they are not a good fit or the school is not a good fit for them. And in the end, it all turns out okay. So I think that before we say “Talking about college sucks and all these people are wasting their time and propagating all this nonsense,” there is a certain good quality to it at times. 


SG: I have to go in like 2 minutes, so I just want to say I totally agree with you with the college decision videos because I’ve just been like— this entire summer and now especially, I just keep watching them. My YouTube recommended is completely warped by SNL clips and college decision reactions. So it’s like, (sighs) I miss my normal YouTube feed. But on the opposite end, I’ve also been on Reddit, but I think Reddit’s like fine. The moderator of [r/]Applyingtocollege [a Reddit thread for college applicants] is really nice. They like try not to talk about— (the computer froze). [Another platform] for college stuff is College Confidential. You already know! Or like, r/ChanceMe where they just post their stats and it’s like, I don’t have a problem with general things but when they just post their stats, and you’re like “Oh my god, I’m like the valedictorian of a thousand kids. I have a UN award.” That’s going to make me feel awful about myself and be like “Wow, I guess I’m not going to get into college because I’m not remarkable like that.” So yea, that’s my take. Also, I have to go so…


Everyone: Congrats!! Bye!


AV: But about those threads. Like those Chance Me threads, it’s terrifying seeing some insane stats, insane activities, insane extracurriculars and someone being like “Yea you’re not going to get in. There’s like literally no way. That’s like such a reach for you.” Like (laughs), what? That’s such a toxic environment. 


VS: I think that it’s also the randomness of the college selection process. Like, yes, people say it’s a holistic review and oftentimes that goes in one ear and out the other. I think that stats get you a foot in the door but sometimes you can just pull the door handle and open it… that was a really weird way to say it (laughs). 


MR; (Laughs) No, no you make a good point. 


VS: But I think there’s so much more to a person, so much more to education, and so much more to college than just numbers. And I think that’s a good point to think about. 


MR: And that’s why these Reddit threads and College Confidential can kinda be a little destructive, at least [to me]. I know personally for myself it seems you are just pure numbers. And you have a bunch of internet trolls telling you every worst thought you’ve already had about yourself: that you’re not going to succeed, that college is the one path to your own happiness, that you’re not good enough. When in reality, the opposite is very very… the opposite is the case. Kunal, were you going to say something?


KK: I was going to say what Vatsala was saying about fit. I know this is maybe a little cheesy or whatever but I believe truly that everyone ends up at the college that they fit best. Like whatever the reason is, I don’t if there’s like some…. I don’t know how the admissions officers can tell… 


VS: College gods!


KK: No, even if you get deferred or rejected, wherever you end up or wherever you end up in September, I just think colleges know and you’ll know, like if you get in multiple places and you choose, you’ll just know and everyone knows what is best for you, which place will make you the most happy and which place is what you were looking for and what you were hoping to get out of college. I don’t know how and I can’t really explain it and it sounds like magical almost, and I know I’m saying this as a high school senior who hasn’t even started college. I just feel like it’ll just work out in everyone’s best interest. 


AV: Also, like transferring is always an option. And honestly that thought has comforted me because if I end up somewhere where I don’t like, or even if I end up somewhere where I really wanted to go but I don’t like it there, I can transfer and everyone has that option. It’s not like the end of it all. There’s other options for you. 


MR: You’re defined by more than where you end up. 


AV: That too. 


VS: For so much of our life, college has been the final destination, the goal. But now is when our life truly starts. And I think there’s a quote that says this so much better. But it’s not about where you go, it’s about what you do where you go, right? And I think that’s what college is about and that’s the culture there. In the end, it’s going to be fine. (Laughs) 


MR: Yeah, exactly, and does anybody have… were you going to say something, Ananya? 


AV: No. I just completely agree. Also, it’s not worth it to try to present yourself as someone that you’re not or spend your entire high school career stressing out about the school you’re going to get into. And by the way, whoever is reading your application is going to read it for 5, 10 minutes max. It is such a… 


VS: Crapshoot. 


MR: Crapshoot, that’s what my mom says. 


AV: Yeah, it is! It literally is. And it’s not worth it to stress out your whole [life]. Like I wish I spent more time enjoying high school and not stressing out. I mean it is what it is and I’m glad that I had the experiences I had in high school and I did what I wanted to do but I know a lot of people don’t get to have that. For any freshmen or people entering high school or people who are underclassmen: enjoy it. It should not be a really, really stressful experience because you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to be. 


MR: Exactly, and so kind of my last question was going to be something like that. What would you tell your freshman self or to underclassmen? I know for me, obviously we were in a very competitive high school and I came from a family where we were very much about staying stable. You have to put your own mental health above school. If you are up very late doing homework, then that homework’s not worth it. You just take the “L” and then you move on with your life. So I tried not to obsess in the way some of my classmates did. I always got a lot of sleep. If I had the option to go out with friends, I would do that before doing my school work, whether or not that’s actually a good thing. I mean I wasn’t the most social person but …(laughs). So that wasn’t like a huge problem for me. But I’m very glad that I had people in my life push me to live it. I wasn’t just a robot because I always thought of it this way: if I died before graduation, then what was this all for? I wanted to at least have some good life experiences in the bank. So that’s my advice and morbid thought for all freshmen. What’s your advice? 


VS: I kind of have the opposite thought. I would tell my freshman self that I am at the Academy for a reason. I’m here for a reason and I need to make the most of it. You’re at a place, it’s what you do at that place rather than where you are. So I would say work hard, play hard. You know, try at everything and put the effort in so that if you go to sleep early, you don’t have to feel guilty. 


MR: Manage your time! 


VS: Yes! Time management. 


MR: For the love of God, manage your time. 


VS: Just keep a mental check of your priorities. I think that might have helped. 


KK: Well, I appreciate what you said Vatsala, but I agree with Mel. 


AV: (Laughs)


KK: What I learned with the process is what’s most important is the people in your life and yourself and there’s so many questions you ask because this is so, like college admissions, like you said is like the final destination. But this whole process has made me realize that it’s not just a final destination. There’s so much more to your life. There’s people that you care about and people that care about you. And so it is important to, as Mel said, be sane and not lose track of yourself. Follow through with your own identity and if you don’t have your own identity yet, you know, just try and find it, however that may happen. And keep tabs on the people around you because you never know how this situation is going to be for them. You never know what they’re going through. So, kind of learn to accept the admission as it is and move on and move forward to the things that can actually change your life. 


AV: I would tell my younger self, like, you’re smart. Stop doubting it. Like literally, honestly I’m glad that I put effort into my studies. I’m happy… I did have a balance of social life and work, but I was so stressed because I thought that I wasn’t smart. And it was just so painful. Like looking back, I’m like “why did you do that?” I valued my grades in math and science so much more than my grades in English and social studies, which is what I was generally, naturally better at, and I don’t know why I did that to myself. I really wish I believed in myself because once I did, my grades in math and science just improved. I don’t know why I had… honestly, like the imposter syndrome really affected me. To any freshman coming to the Academy, you’re smart. Like don’t doubt it. Dont. Yeah, that’s it. That’s literally it. 


MR: That’s great advice. And thank you for coming on a Sunday at 7. Which is such a really weird hour to be doing this. 


VS: Every hour is college hour. We are slaves to the admissions process. 


MR: Yes, and I will be including that as the byline. 


(Everyone laughs.)


MR: So thank you so much for coming. You guys were just awesome. Such great insights. And to this hellhole. So, I hope to see you tomorrow? I mean, I don’t think I see any of you. 


VS: Congrats Ananya and Mel!


KK: Congratulations to everyone and good luck to those who are still [waiting].


MR: Okay, bye!