College admissions process proves to be lesson in life

As a sports editor for El Diablo, writing a column, especially for The Durango Herald, presents a unique opportunity to discuss far more than just the standard scores and statistics of the average sports page. Columns are the place for writers to ignore the usual rules of journalism, and dive head first into their own convictions. Doesn’t sound too hard, right?

Well, it isn’t as long as you don’t mind publicly sharing your own opinions with thousands of people who, chances are, probably have an even more astute understanding of the topic than you do. Look online, and basically anyone in the world with an Internet connection could read what I have to say. Let’s be honest, I’m a high school senior – I can hardly be called an “expert” on anything. In reality, I wouldn’t have any trouble writing 700 words about the complicated relationship between China and Tibet, but I would by no means be comfortable publishing such an article for all the world to see.

Nonetheless, as a senior in high school, there is at least one subject on which I can give my apt and experienced opinion: college applications. After all, did they not just completely consume the last several months of my life?

Like the countless other straight-A seniors across the country with sour grapes on how they failed to gain admission to the Ivy League school of their dreams, I, too, can count myself as a part of the 2013 college-admissions massacre.

And if I’ve observed anything over the last few months for those current, overconfident underclassmen to learn from, it is this: You will go through at least two general mental stages on your journey to college admission.

The first, pre-application-decision stage, will be characterized by a wealth of confidence and optimism.

The second, post-application-decision stage, for at least 99 percent of the population, is characterized by the sobering realization that the person who took your place at Harvard or Yale is the 14-year-old you saw on “60 Minutes” last week.

So let’s start with the first stage – what causes all of this foolhardy overconfidence? Well, the answer turns out to be fairly simple; colleges continually tell you, “Just be yourself, and if you’re right for the school, we’re sure you’ll be admitted.”

Great! You’re a smart, dedicated and interesting individual, right? Of course, you’ll be admitted! Keep in mind they also told the same thing to the other 25,000 well matched applicants who were ultimately denied.

Being “yourself” really only works if you take four AP classes per semester, have ridiculous ACT scores, start a successful charity for underprivileged children and spend every afternoon picking up trash while helping the elderly cross the street.

Did you organize that mission trip to build new schools in the Congo? Did you win that internship to design new technologies with NASA? Well, you might want to step it up a little bit.

Now for the second stage – the reality check. After slapping yourself several times to make certain that you’re not, in fact, sleeping through some horrible nightmare, you realize that you, with all of your spectacular prerequisites and flawless supplement essays into which you “poured your heart and soul,” were rejected.

If you are one of those unlucky people who spent countless hours assuredly applying to all of the most selective schools in the country, you eventually neglect to even read the whole letter. Just look for the telltale signs of polite rejection: “We regret to inform you,” “unfortunately,” “sadly,” “we appreciate your application, however. ...”

If I could do it all over again, I would have been anything but white – anything, just so I could write about how the heartwrenching history of my people has strengthened me as a person. Next time give me a closet, any closet, and I would cheerfully come out of it – I hear admissions officers love to hear how you have overcome personal obstacles.

I would travel to Pakistan to take my picture with some suffering child – apparently heartbreaking stories of others’ anguish are good for admissions as well.

But as it is, we all have to learn to live with what we’ve got. I suppose, an Ivy League education could not really be all that much better than a degree earned at our own Fort Lewis College. And besides – all those rejection letters probably just ended up saving me 20 years worth of student loans.

Levi Kurlander is the sports editor at El Diablo, the Durango High School student newspaper. He is the son of Scott and Mona Kurlander of Durango.