You’re Not Just a Piece of Paper


W. Steve Shepard Jr.

Photo Courtesy WBUR

After a long four years of high school and a straight week of binge essay writing, my own college application process has finally come to a close. Although the process was tiring and stressful, the entire sum of what I had produced amounted only to a few pieces of paper.

I think it’s important for students today to remember that this is all that college applications are: meaningless pieces of paper.

Sure, one’s application might determine his or her future college, but it’s not the application that gains one admittance. It’s the person behind the paper. High schoolers are more than just numbers and essays.

As pressure to get a perfect GPA and test scores increases, students just become mindless robots trying to manipulate the system to get them into college. Some of them will take 14 AP classes (all of which they know they’ll hate) instead of picking classes they genuinely want to take. Others will become the presidents of clubs they couldn’t care less about, and even more will volunteer hundreds and hundreds of hours of community service, just so they have something to put on a resume.

After years of doing things just so they can make themselves look better on paper, these students become completely invested in a single school. And when they are not admitted they become devastated.

But all of this isn’t the point of an education. It’s not what applying to colleges is about; school is not a means to an end. It’s about learning. It’s about growing. It’s about finding out new things and using the skills you acquire to change the world around you.

Colleges want students who care, students who are genuinely passionate about what they do and students who learn just for the sake of learning. Yes, it’s important to turn these passions into something productive, but that should come naturally for as long as you love what you’re doing.

And when you finally find a college that’s perfect for you, it will be a college that will help you follow your passions and aspirations, not a college with a top ranking and a high salary outlook.

No one’s entire life can be conveyed in a few short word-limited boxes, and because of such you will not necessarily gain admittance to every single school you apply to. It’s important to know, however, that no matter where you go, you are going to end up happy. You’re not defined by where you go to school, but how you make a difference wherever you end up.

We live in a society where our self worth is often based on how outsiders judge as, and this has to change. Every single high school student in the country has the potential to do something great, and each person has to understand that his or her worth can never be defined merely by a flimsy piece of paper from an admissions office.