I really thought I was done talking about the US college admissions process. I never hated doing it, but I hated talking about it, and I thought I had left that far behind me after graduation. But I realized that this is still a highly relevant and stressful topic for many in my home community, and because I care about my community, it is incredibly frustrating to see negative thought patterns and misinformed opinions pervade it.

People have asked me questions before, during, and long, long after the college application season. People are still asking questions, sometimes to me, and sometimes about me, behind my back. So to address all of those questions once and for all, I finally wrote up this post, even though my blog isn’t a space meant for college talk.

Q: Where are you applying early? (other forms of this question: do you know anyone else who’s applying there early? I heard so-and-so’s applying here too, should I be worried?)
A: All renditions of this question really point to the same idea that somehow you are “competing” with that other student from your high school who is applying to the same college early. First of all, this is untrue. You are competing with thousands of students across the globe, not that one girl in your calculus class.
Second of all, if you’re so afraid that this one person may beat you to this one spot in your one dream college, maybe you shouldn’t be applying there.
(Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. I know it’s a very concrete, visible source of anxiety to feel like you’re competing against a classmate. My point is, when you feel that anxiety, let it come, then let it pass and leave. You can’t help being worried but you can help what you focus your mental energy on. Focus on what you can control, which is getting your applications done.)

Q: Do I need a college consulting service?
A: I don’t know if there could possibly be a more anxious-Korean-international-student type question. In short, no. Given its exorbitant costs, it wouldn’t make sense if such a service was necessary to do well in the college process. I (and the vast majority of my friends) did not use one, and I believe it didn’t make the slightest difference in our results. I did have a few friends who hired a consulting service, and they have had mixed experiences. I have heard that some gleaned good advice and organizational help.
Nobody should negatively judge people who can afford and choose to hire a consulting service, because it is completely up to them and it doesn’t hurt anyone. But I have absolutely no respect for people who hire services that falsify any part of their application for them, encourage lying, or draft essays in lieu of them. This is an act that violates what little trust is left in the system and blatantly tramples upon the rights of tens of thousands of other students to be judged fairly against honest applicants.
In the end, I believe a trusted upperclassman, careful online research, and/or the structured guidance of a school counselor is more than enough to get you through the process. And a consulting service should not be powerful enough to create a student that does not exist. If a student who had no chance at a school gets in due to consulting, that help most likely steps over the ethical boundary.

Q: When should I start worrying about college?
A: Don’t worry about college, worry about living the best life possible. Worry about working hard, trying new things, and getting closer to being the person you want to be. Life will float you to senior year, and when that time comes, you will rise from the tides, take a look at yourself, and only then do you have to worry about portraying accurately through your application how you have lived your life.

A: I’m not sure, but I worked hard, and I never asked anyone “how they did it” because how they did it is not relevant to how I planned on doing it.

Q: What kind of extracurriculars should I do?
A: Do what is meaningful to you.

Q: Should I play a sport?
A: Do what is meaningful to you.

Q: What should I do over the summer?
A: Do what is meaningful to you.

Q: Should I join the next theater production even though I need to study for the SATs?
A: Do what is meaningful to you.

Q: Which extracurriculars should I write about in my application?
A: Write about what was meaningful to you.

Q: What classes should I take?
A: Study what you find meaningful.

And now for some questions/statements that were asked/made about me:

Q: If you got in early action, why did you still apply to other schools regular decision?
A: Because I wasn’t sure back in December where I really wanted to be, and ideally, I wanted up till May to decide.
But I shouldn’t have to answer that in the first place or defend my choices, because I didn’t apply early decision and had the right to continue considering other schools. Also, it’s a myth that applying regular “takes away opportunities” from your classmates.

Q: What major did you get in as?
A: I didn’t get in “as” any major. I got in as a student who could potentially major in anything, depending on how the next two years end up flowing.

Q: Did you end up choosing Stanford for the name value?
A: Honestly, that just perplexes me because it doesn’t even make sense in context. My hope for you is that you find better things to think about than speculations upon my entirely personal and academic reasons for which I chose my school.

If you read this post hoping for application tips, this probably didn’t help. What I did try to do was to clear some misunderstandings about the process and hopefully correct unhealthy attitudes along the way, as well as deter unethical activity. If you were looking for real, practical help, I would suggest directly contacting me. I have yet to turn anyone down that actually asked for help.

My takeaway from the college application process was that the essays and paperwork were stressful at times, but never as much as the social stress. Protect your friendships and resist gossip, and you won’t have any problems facing school. Protect your integrity and resist dishonesty, and you won’t have any problems facing yourself.