To be perfectly honest, I think my first month at Yale has been characterized by insecurity.
Don’t get me wrong — I love it here. I love my classes, my clubs and, most of all, I love the people. As clichéd and contrived as it may be, it’s true: the students really do make Yale. It’s bizarre and bewildering to me that my peers — people who sit in the same classrooms as me scrambling to triple check p-sets — often have an entire life outside of academia. They are activists, celebrities, Olympians, entrepreneurs. Some of them are doing pioneering research alongside scientists twice their age; some of them have performed in front of thousands. Every day, we pass by people who will probably win the Nobel Prize within the next decade.
I love that about Yale. I love that almost everyone here has a fascinating backstory. But it’s also given me the infamous, oft-mentioned imposter syndrome. I look at my classmates, and I think, “Wow, the admissions officers must not have had any trouble with that decision.” I imagine a panel of men in suits and ties, murmuring appreciatively over someone’s five-page-long resume about gap years spent volunteering at rehabilitation camps in obscure parts of developing nations or impossibly long shopping lists of Fortune 500 internships, marking out their “best accomplishments” with an admiring yellow highlighter, while another, less-fortunate application lies discarded in the corner, marked up by dozens of censorious red marks.
I try to imagine what kind of conversation could’ve possibly followed the review of my application. Perhaps they saw something that I don’t, some sort of secret potential, the bud of a blossom, if you will. But realistically, in careful assessment of the profile I spent the past four years crafting, I end up with an inoffensive candidate. I’m under no delusions that I was a unique candidate. I have no Carnegie Mellon performance, MUN title or explosive social media following to my name — it was only yesterday I met someone who was verified on Instagram. How did they distinguish me from the hundreds of other high-achieving, humanities-heavy girls from Hong Kong? What if they read through my app and thought: what a boring student — what a perfect stock character to add to Yale?
But then again, what would be a flattering thing to see? Is it better to be an unimaginative, replaceable admit with a “holistic” Yale profile? Or to have one exceptional talent, with lots of little footnoted concerns about your academic capabilities? Maybe I sit somewhere in between — neither an Olympian nor completely incapable of doing my readings before lecture. What if they all but admit that you’re a legacy admit? Or better yet diversity candidate? I bet “personality” was what put you over the fence.
I guess I know the answer. The most flattering thing would be a validation of our entire identity, to be told that we have it all. I wonder if any of the applicants checked every single box on the long list of admissions criteria. Can you imagine? Being called “perfect” at the ripe age of 18.
The mystique of the college admissions office. It hasn’t faded at all.
A few days ago, a sophomore friend mentioned that she had requested to view her admissions file. I was struck by an urge to follow in suit, but she warned me off. “Don’t do it yet. You don’t have any distance.”
As desperate as I am to see exactly what they’ve written: validations of my accomplishments, disparagements of my flaws, maybe even a sprinkle of “hey, she seems quirky and fun for a residential college,” I think my friend was probably right. It’s only been a little over a month since I first, officially, became a student here. While I’ve still yet to meet the seven-credit taking, Plato-reciting, over-committed pseudo intellectual, my sense of belonging to the intellectual, academic community still feels tenuous. I’m not entirely sure where I stand and introducing myself as a different major and constantly recalibrating my extracurricular commitments certainly doesn’t help. Yesterday, I was a prospective EP&E major, and today, I’m chemical engineering. I guess that’s close enough.
A lot of insecurities I have about Yale is tied to my predicted and perceived value to the community. And because I’m in the process of finding out where exactly that value lies — if it exists at all — maybe it’s not such a good idea to look at a file that literally lays out exactly what the gatekeepers of Yale think. As appealing as it sounds, I think a trip to the admissions office is probably the last thing I need.
I like to think at some point, I’m just not going to care. I will look at my admissions file and ponder at the things it got right and laugh at the things it, very much, got wrong.
For now, it’s probably a good idea to stay away.
Adrienne Zhang | firstname.lastname@example.org .