"It'll be your next right ... No, I mean yournext left, sorry. Wait, this isn't it. I think we're going the wrong way, turnaround. Is that it? Wait, there's no street sign ... Now we're reallylost!"
It would be an understatement to say that I was sleepy. I'dbeen up since 4:30 a.m. and the street signs, map and cars began to run together.My stomach gurgled and a wave of nausea set in, maybe because I hadn't eatensince the night before, or maybe because I'd been stuck in a car reading a mapfor hours.
My mom had decided to spend a weekend touring some colleges. Ithought it sounded fun, to get away from the Florida heat, shop forback-to-school clothes, and enjoy myself one last time before being loaded downwith work for the next nine months. Driving down endless deserted roads whilelooking for the slightest sign of college life had not been on the itinerary.
As a junior, college seemed far away to me, so I had found it unnecessaryto plan much more than 30 minutes on any of the campuses.
But I'd alreadysacrificed two hours of my vacation and not even seen a quad.
Leaning back to close my eyes for a moment, I sat up when my mothergasped, "Look at this beautiful school! Alex, look, we're here."
I crawled out of our rental car to face a spectacular college setting. Wewalked along the brick pathways looking for the auditorium where the informationsession was to be held. We'd missed the tour, for obvious reasons, and I fearedwe'd miss the information session as my mom tried to navigate through the campus.(She is notorious for lacking a sense of direction. I guess we know where I getit from.) I was too preoccupied looking at the buildings, watching packs ofstudents stroll across the quads and picturing myself among them in two years, tonotice my mom's confusion.
Still in awe of my surroundings, I took a seatin the auditorium and the speaker began his presentation about the school'shistory, faculty and student life. I gained tremendous knowledge from thesession, but my thoughts began to drift. Then he began his lecture on admissions.His voice, as though it had been distant before, perked up as he began to listsome college essay questions. I concentrated, making mental notes as to whether Ithought I could answer any of them.
Then he said, "Just brainstormfor a moment. What are your hopes? How would you describe your personality? Whatare your strengths and weaknesses? How do you define success? What's yourfavorite quote, and why? If you could meet and talk with anyone, living or dead,who would it be and why?" With my head whirling, I expected him to ask,"What's the meaning of life?"
I sat back and wondered what Iwanted from life. Who was I, and what was I good at? What did I need to improve,and who was my hero?" I thought I knew who I was, but I'd never reallythought about all this. My self-confidence slightly threatened, I continued tolisten and ponder. Sitting in the auditorium, I felt swallowed by theintimidation of this admissions process. Panic and stress replaced the excitementand courage with which I had entered the room. I tried to think of an answer toone of the questions he'd asked. What was my favorite quote? "Never, never,never give up" by Winston Churchill was one I often used to get me throughjust about anything. It was my determination that had gotten me this far, so whynot now? I may not have all the answers, and I may not know exactly what I'mafter in life, but I have determination, and really that's all anyoneneeds.
This college application process can be stressful, and I didn'tknow the half of it yet, but I am feeling the pressure. My vacation started withme feeling like college was way in the distance, but only a few days later, Ifelt it looming. It happens that fast, trust me. One day you're a junior and thenext you're college bound with a million decisions to make. Overwhelming doesn'tbegin to describe it, but that doesn't mean you have to adopt a defeatist'sattitude.
Here is what I have learned from my summer tours: Startthinking about your future now. Do a little soul-searching and delve deeper thanever before. Discover your heroes, your hopes, your strengths. But mostimportant, when your dreams seem shattered and those admissions seemoverwhelming, remember your determination, and never, never, never give up!-
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.