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### Navigating College Admissions: Exploring the Highs and Lows of the Application Journey

I feel like I’ve been gearing up for this arduous journey all through my high school years.

“No matter where you end up, you’ll find happiness.”

“Oh, that institution is incredibly challenging to gain entry into.”

“There’s a purpose behind every event.”

These are just a few of the unsolicited remarks I’ve encountered from acquaintances, strangers, and even my dermatologist when they learn that I’m in the midst of the extremely chaotic college application process. Are these responses uplifting? At times. Considerate? To some extent. Anxiety-inducing? Most certainly.

As a high school senior, I am consistently immersed in college-related information, juggling deadlines, and refining supplemental essays. Now that it’s February and most of my applications have been submitted, I find myself trapped in a waiting game that could extend until March, if I’m fortunate — otherwise, I might linger on a waitlist until July.

The journey leading up to the submission of applications has been anything but smooth: I’ve spent numerous nights pondering, How can I encapsulate my greatest fear in 150 words? Or, is 13 years of tap dancing sufficiently captivating? Or, should I have pursued playing the oboe? While the months dedicated to completing the applications were undeniably demanding, the stress was not confined to that period. I feel like I’ve been gearing up for this challenging experience all throughout high school.

The accumulation of four years’ worth of effort, encompassing impressive extracurricular activities and rigorous coursework, all culminates in that singular moment when I click on the “Status Update” button on my application, triggering either a surge of joy or a wave of disappointment.

Many of my peers associate their future success and happiness with their choice of college, failing to grasp that college is just one aspect of their journey.

What makes it particularly challenging is not tethering my self-worth (or lack thereof) to my college acceptance. As Adam Grant notes in his book “Originals,” “Your control over the outcome is very, very limited, and that outcome says nothing definitive about your talent or potential.” Many of my peers equate their college destination with their future success and happiness, overlooking the fact that college is merely a fragment of their forthcoming experiences.

Coming to terms with the limited extent of control I have during this process has been a struggle. Amidst this chaotic application phase, I once started noticing what I believed were signs of divine intervention: I convinced myself that glimpsing specific college sweatshirts on the street was an omen of my acceptance to the institution emblazoned on the garment. Despite knowing that I had given my all — taking extra courses, exerting my utmost effort, delving into my passions, and crafting the most compelling and imaginative essays possible — the realization that this decision was beyond my influence led me to seek solace in any form during this unsettling period.

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While certain aspects of the process may resonate with you — such as touring college campuses with my parents, whose viewpoints often diverged from mine, and soliciting feedback on my college essays from friends and family — for my generation, there exists an additional layer of pressure due to social media. With the world at our fingertips, I am more cognizant than ever of how my online posts, tweets, and group conversations can impact others. A post celebrating a friend or sibling’s acceptance into college may appear innocuous but can be profoundly disheartening for someone just rejected from the same institution. Social media serves as yet another reason why the college application process has evolved into a popular topic of discussion (among students and parents), intensifying the stress for high school seniors navigating through it.

Yet, amidst this stressful period — inundated with discouraging (and unsolicited) advice — I have also received a wealth of valuable counsel. A teacher recently imparted to me, “A school is exceptional if it allows your talents and interests to shine.” This sentiment has stuck with me, serving as a reminder that whether I find myself on a bustling urban campus or a serene tree-lined quad, I will make the most of whatever circumstances I encounter. Perhaps those well-meaning yet unfamiliar individuals were correct: Wherever I end up, I will discover happiness.

Sophia Paley is a New Yorker and a senior at the Horace Mann School.