Single White Female Seeking Perfect College Match

Scripps Ranch High School senior Grace Klein writes occasional columns for the SRCA Newsletter about her experiences at the high school from her unique perspective. She requested that her column be called “The Voice” in honor of her summer reading assignment, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” “The Voice” is the name of Owen Meany’s column in his school newspaper in the book. He used his column to criticize everything and everyone about Gravesend Academy.

When I was a kid, I used to love filling out surveys. I must’ve signed us up for a dozen useless mailers, seduced by their irresistible subscription renewal postcards. Upon discovering the internet, I took every personality quiz Google offered!

Multiple-choice questions afforded me the chance to carefully consider my own presentation of my personality. In day-to-day interactions I have no control over how others perceive me. All I can do is walk a certain way, talk a certain way, and hope for the best.

As someone who, for over a decade, had a lot of trouble understanding the nonstop social survey of body language and presentation, textual quizzes were a godsend. I got to tell strangers who I was, and they had no choice but to believe me.

Then the college application process happened.

It’s one thing to flip through a Teen Vogue quiz and be told I’m a classic Leo—because, come on, duh. People may judge me for reading Teen Vogue, but the glossy pages could really care less if my horoscope suits me. The career aptitude test required by my high school may use an algorithm to calculate my results, but it has no real opinion about my answers.

College admissions officers aren’t just curious about who you are, they judge you for it. You have one chance to fill out the ultimate survey, and your results will basically tell you if anything you went through during high school was worth the pain.

But after 17 years of self-exploration and form-filling, I found myself staring at a series of checked boxes on my computer screen and wondering if these could possibly be the sum of my parts.

  • Name: Grace Klein
  • Gender: Female
  • GPA: Good enough
  • SAT: Acceptable
  • Diversity: Not very

There was nothing in there about my beliefs. They didn’t ask me if I held the door open for old women or kept an eye on small children in the parking lot to make sure they didn’t run out in front of cars. Sure, they wanted proof of my character, but that came in the form of a list of verifiable objective credentials. Had I spent more than 100 hours volunteering? Yes? Then I was a deeply moral and well-grounded youth. I devoted my free time to club sports? Clearly, I was driven enough to keep myself busy and socialized sufficiently well to work on a team.

I know people who spent their entire high school careers shaping themselves to fit in the little boxes on these forms. They joined clubs, formed clubs, clawed their way up the executive hierarchy of clubs, just to pad their resumes. These schedules don’t speak to who we are as people. All they can tell a reader is what we did that somebody thought sounded better than “holed up in our rooms” or “average teenage social interactions, or lack thereof.”

But some enterprising admissions officer realized this. He noticed that these fact-checking boxes gave no insight into the student filling them out. So he thought up the “Personal Essay.” The problem with the personal essay is that it is actually deeply, irreparably impersonal.

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to who you are?

Ignoring the fact that this assumes that one single quality, talent, accomplishment, or experience defines me—it does not—and that this might necessarily be the same sort of thing that makes me proud—often, it does not—I am restricted to 500 words. Five-hundred words is a bare-bones essay.

What matters to you, and why? (250 word limit.)

Sounds great in theory, but I only have 250 words. I couldn’t tell you who I am in 25,000 words! But anything is better than what I encountered on one application:

What five words best describe you?

Of course, this assumes that the officer is actually reading the essay. And that, after trudging through thousands of similar personal pleas, he even cares anymore. He’d have to be super human to approach every essay on “What My Grandmother Taught Me” with equal enthusiasm.

So in lies the paradox: they claim to want to get to know you, but their system is designed to make this impossible. It is a waking nightmare to stare at a blank Word document and know that you are expected to divulge your most meaningful moments to a system that will reduce them to a series of metrics. You are being judged, and it is the worst feeling in the world.

Only it’s not, because what is worse is waiting three months to learn whether they found you wanting or not. Whether your life experiences were sufficiently inspiring, whether you checked the right boxes, whether your yearbook photo looks like what they think their entering class should. A month from know I will know which schools have offered me a place in their college. But I will never know if they knew who it was they were admitting.

Grace Klein, SRHS Senior