Thursday, January 21, 2010


Julia Murdza, class of 2010, wrote this essay in the Senior Writing Seminar:

It’s the end of August: the leaves are still green, your feet are still bare, and your mind is still intact. You’re a rising senior, and you need some advice about the months ahead. Allow me to prepare you for your senior fall semester. No, you won’t get through it sane, healthy, or good-natured, but it’s time you knew better. Your body might make it to January, but your soul certainly won’t.

First, sign up for classes. Sign up for too many classes. Sign up for classes that, after eating all your free time, turn on each other and conflict in nasty, terrible ways. Attend these classes. Rush around school, and around town, because it’s a fifteen minute scramble to get to your Dartmouth lecture on time. As you do all this, rush around in your head as well, as you try to remember where you’re supposed to be, what your homework was, and whether you did it. Don’t mess up.

Sign up for activities, too. You’re already a member, and probably a leader, of many clubs and organizations, but that’s not enough. Join something new. Let these interests consume your activity periods, your afternoons, your evenings, and your nights. Let them become just as important as your classes. Agonize when they conflict with each other and you have to prioritize. You won’t want to prioritize. You will want to do everything, and you will want to do all of it perfectly. You can’t mess this up either. Other people depend on your success. And so do your college applications. Don’t forget about college. Like you ever would. You won’t ever, ever stop thinking about colleges. It will come up in nearly every conversation you have, no matter who you’re with. When you’re with other seniors, it will be all you talk about.

Spend your nights and weekends, even though you won’t have them anymore, applying to colleges. Apply to far too many colleges. Apply to colleges your parents make you apply to, and apply to your favorite colleges, the ones your parents scorn. Apply to so many colleges that you can’t rattle off your list anymore. Then again, maybe you’re just too tired to get through any sort of list.

You’ll be more than tired, you’ll be exhausted. You’ll determine the minimum amount of necessary sleep, and then get less than that. Watch as your sleep deprivation leads to exponential increases in swearing and in talking to yourself in public. You’ll need gallons of coffee to stay lucid through the day, but then you’ll spend the last of your cash on postage for transcript mailings. Survive without caffeine by whining, muttering, and microsleeping. Go home, do that homework and apply to those colleges. Don’t even think about going to bed before midnight. Promise yourself that you’ll clean your room, take a shower, do some laundry. You won’t do these things, at least not all of them, at what you used to consider normal waking hours. You’ll be diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular by turns, and sometimes all three. You will not be coherent or cheerful.You’ll need to be coherent, unfortunately, though you’ll give up on cheerful. Why is coherence important? Because you’ll need to write your college essays. As you’ll be repeatedly told, this is the only part of your application you’ll have left to control, besides your senior grades. The essays are supposed to represent the Real You. Before this fall, the Real You might not have been completely normal and content, but it managed. That’s the image you want to present to colleges: that of Someone Who Can Manage. To portray that, you need to be somewhat coherent. Good luck.

There will be too many essays. The Common Application one, and then the one,
two, or even three supplemental essays that every college finds it amusing to assign. Panic. If you were not, by chance, already panicking, this is your cue. Standby panic, panic go. You’ll delay writing the essays, because when you do write them, the prompts will be awful and your responses worse, and they will make you want to curl up in a ball and hide from all the ickiness. You will not want to explain why colleges should want you, and you will want even less to explain why you want each of them. You will be asked to write thousands of words, to revise and rearrange time after time. Don’t forget, these essays are supposed to reveal your intelligence, your creativity, and your sense of humor. Don’t mess these up either.

You won’t have time for all this, and you won’t have the motivation either.
Fatigue is part of it, but even after you sleep for twelve hours on a Sunday morning, you won’t be able to make yourself work. Check email, Facebook, web comics, the weather, and Facebook again. You’ll procrastinate and spend five hours on a week-long assignment the night before it’s due, and you’ll discover the sort of crap you can churn out at ridiculously early hours. Avoid making eye contact with teachers when they return your papers, because the quality of your work will be joke compared to your ability. You will feel guilty, and you will want to produce thoughtful work, but if you do, it will be some sort of miracle.

Even if you do work hard, you will not be good enough. You will have friends
taking more and harder classes than you, and doing better with less effort. If you do not take a Dartmouth class, captain a varsity sport, get the lead role, run three clubs, and complete the Common App by November, you will be inadequate. You will feel inferior during those constant discussions of colleges, no matter where you are applying. Either your friends will be looking at Ivies while you compare state schools, or you will regret yuour Ivy deliberations as your friends apply elsewhere to study the arts. When you read other college essays, your own will seem even more banal, pretentious, and artificial than before. No matter how hard you try, you just won’t be able to win.

While drowning in academics and activities and applications, you’ll miss things.
You’ll miss family events like soccer tournaments and apple picking, and you’ll miss things with your friends like birthday parties and concerts. You will have some fun, because if you don’t, you’ll be dead and buried instead of just undead. Even though you can’t afford to, you will spend time with your friends. You’ll all complain, commiserate, and offer consolation. When you finish a worksheet or a set change or an essay, you will find moments of exhilarated relief heightened by exhaustion. And by the end of December, the pace will slow and you might have some unallocated time. Time that you’ll use to worry whether your soul-killing senior fall was worth the agony. To worry about the letters that will soon assault your mailbox. To worry if you did mess up everything after all. Have fun.