Seniors are interviewing for jobs this week, and it’s stressing me out.
Those of you who are older and more stressed about this than I am should pause before rolling your eyes. Yes, I’m a freshman — young enough both to see the moonlight over Old Campus and to be continually surprised by how beautiful it is. I may still be in awe of my surroundings and desperate to soak up everything that Yale has to offer, but I’m also young enough to still be a little bit scarred by the memory of the college application process.
Every moment of recollection of how lucky I am to be here comes with a reminder of the effort that getting here took: the late nights writing papers, the months when SAT scores and GPA’s felt like a numerical representation of my worth and the constant question that preceded every choice — “how will this look to colleges?”
Maybe that mindset was a product of my own neurosis, or maybe it came from attending a high school whose sports teams, I kid you not, played in the Ivy Preparatory School League. My classmates and I attended one of the “best high schools in the country,” but there were times when it felt like we weren’t going to school to receive an education, but rather to earn admission to the so-called best colleges in the country.
Many of my teachers were truly inspiring and my extracurricular experiences were enriching, but high school often felt less like an intellectual journey and more like an unrelenting treadmill of exams and papers that tired me out without taking me anywhere. Those of us who could set the treadmill on the highest setting and stay on the longest would end up at places like Yale, or those schools in Cambridge and New Jersey. That was how the world worked. It was a world that I was lucky to be a part of, but one with a deeply flawed value system.
No matter where we went to high school, we’re now attending one of those best colleges in the country. Going to Yale sets us on a path, we’re told, to attend the best law, medical and graduate schools in the country, or to take some of the best jobs.
Our Yale degrees will take us amazing places, but those destinations should define neither our Yale experience nor our worth as people. The future is looming, and we need to prepare for it, but our time at Yale should not serve solely to set up whatever comes after graduation. In short: pre-professionalism really scares me.
Walking through Cross Campus, I overhear students comparing MCAT and LSAT scores. When I asked upperclassmen what language I should study, I was told that Chinese is useful for business, German is useful for graduate school, and Russian will kill my GPA. One of my friends wants to read some of the so-called Great Books in class, but she doesn’t know if her premed requirements will give her room for a class with that much reading.
No matter how many late nights I spend debating philosophy, it’s hard to avoid encounters that make me worry that I should start dusting off my running shoes and preparing to hop back on the achievement treadmill. I catch myself wondering whether studying abroad or doing a summer internship would look better, and then I have to ask: who exactly is looking?
Though the idea that we come to college to find ourselves is trite, there’s truth in clichés, and finding ourselves should entail something more than choosing which all-powerful judges to try to impress. Call me naïve, but I want to receive my education in an environment that fosters a love of learning, an environment that encourages risk-taking.
I’m not saying that the future isn’t important. We should constantly aim to do as much as we can with the talents and the opportunities that we’ve been given. Nevertheless, I wonder if we could be just as successful after Yale without making success after Yale our only goal. If we really just focused on learning the material in our classes and participating in organizations we love, would we build strong resumes without even noticing?
The woods are scary, but we can do more than run on treadmills.
Courtney Hodrick is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact her at email@example.com.