Required reading or watching for this article: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth.
“You chose us, now we choose you,” says Theo James’ character Four in the movie adaptation of Veronica Roth’s Divergent. And that’s also what colleges will say to you during your senior year.
It all starts off innocently enough. I remember being a sophomore and getting my first recruitment letter from a school I had never heard of – Case Western or Emory, if I remember correctly. It was exciting at first, just like the choosing ceremony in Roth’s Divergent. I enjoyed sifting through the colorful pamphlets displaying, in some cases, well-groomed campus quads, pseudo-diversity and students with unrealistically huge grins. But by the middle of my junior year, my mailbox was being aggressively stuffed with letters, postcards, books and stickers every single day and I was growing weary.
By fall break this year, I had chosen the schools I wanted to apply to. Part one completed, Four.
Depending on the school, filling out the college applications themselves are as intense as training for the Hunger Games or being initiated into your Divergent faction. Maybe, like a career, you’ve been preparing for this your whole life. Or maybe you’re the female heroine thrown into the middle of this, struggling to find your footing.
The applications are long and hard and seem to be defined by one number: your training score, I mean your ACT score. But like in The Hunger Games, your numerical score may not define overall success. Sometimes, a competitor has a hidden strength like “club founder” or “I rescue puppies and kittens and volunteer my time at a retirement home, taking said puppies and kitties to go play there.” Maybe you’re from District 12, but you still have a decent SAT score. You just never know.
Soon you’re done with your apps, and you might get invited for an interview. So there you are, seated with all of the other applicants. Though it makes you feel mildly savage, you can’t help but channel your inner girl (or guy) on fire, sizing up your competition – the other tributes in this passive Hunger Games.
However, the real fighting takes place in an office miles away. It’s not physical and you never see it, but let me help you imagine it.
Our scene begins in the shadows of a college – maybe it’s Asbury, maybe it’s UK, maybe it’s Harvard. High above, a lone admissions officer scans the competitors. They’ve been piling up since the early fall, but now it’s finally time. A bell rings and the cage doors confining the applicants are raised. They lunge, brandishing resumes and sports awards, shouting cheesy lines at each other: “it changed me for the better!”
One competitor – that’s you – pauses to contemplate their strange, new surroundings. The battle is almost over now; admission decisions will come out soon… Why couldn’t it be you? “We both know they have to have a victor. Yes, they have to have a victor. Without a victor, the whole thing would blow up,” as Suzanne Collins puts it in The Hunger Games.
For the West Jessamine Class of 2014, the battles have been won. But let this serve as a warning to underclassmen, especially juniors. Be resilient like Katniss, dauntless like Tris and you should probably eat lots of comfort food like me.
May the odds be ever in your favor.
(Ironically, Veronica Roth wrote Divergent while at Northwestern University, a school that put me through this exact ordeal.)