Good Grades Are Not a Golden Ticket To the Ivies 

Finding Your Identity Through Your College Application Process


Illustration by Lydia Ryu.

Raye Park, Mikey Pierog, and Alyssa Chang

When I started writing my personal statement on Common App, I was totally stuck with everything. I had no idea what to write about; sharing my private stories with complete strangers — these cold, distant admissions officers — seemed exceedingly difficult.

Which life event would catch their eye? What are my achievements? How should I decide the theme of my anecdote? I eventually ended up staring at an empty document for hours upon hours, typing and deleting question marks countless times. I hated the unwelcoming prompt: “Tell me about yourself.” I didn’t know where to start. 

Growing up in a country where numbers meant value, choosing not to have any off-campus support – such as private tutors or college consultants – required me to be fully independent in my endeavors. Being one of the few Korean students at DIS who received zero education outside of school put me under so much pressure.

Going against the academic elitism in my community, I determined not to become a snake eating its own tail. I wanted to devote my precious time to the activities that I genuinely adored – attending SAT prep classes during summer vacation was something I would avoid at all costs. 

That being said, I reflected on what I’ve been doing since before I can even remember. I didn’t ask to be in this position as a uni applicant, but I was born naturally as a reader, dancer, singer, and athlete. College was a place where I wanted to find my true pursuits, not my parents’ visions.

I was so anxious when I started thinking about the college application that I had been dreading. From freshman year, all I could do was think about how to make my academic achievements look better. Even though I was always front and center in middle school, I became overworked, distressed, and sleep-deprived every day as I moved through high school. I gave up my spirit, my confidence, and my identity.

I had so much to do when I began taking AP classes in 10th grade. I was an immature individual that believed the myth that overstudying would lead me to good universities. I was starting to lose myself, so I took an audacious attempt to break from the orthodoxy.

Sacrificing my life for a better future seemed contradictory and illogical. How are you going to be successful when you’re stressed out? I decided to write about what I wanted to do if I found out I would die tomorrow in my personal essay – the things I really want in life.

Now I’m in 12th grade, and I finally have more time to be me. Newfound introspection lessened the pressure; I knew that I wouldn’t get accepted with achievements alone if I didn’t have an appealing character. I was able to find myself; I even found myself enjoying writing college essays. I became a rockstar amongst the study-heads everywhere.

Filming and recording proof of my work for applications was the biggest help in figuring out the interests and extracurriculars that I truly enjoyed, which put me on the path to a successful application process for American universities. 

I wouldn’t have been able to talk about who “high schooler Raye” actually was if I didn’t indulge in these hobbies that I’ll enjoy for the rest of my life. Looking back, I regret ignoring my real character at the beginning of high school. All of us were happy in middle school when life was a lot easier, and so was I, but my values became less deep as I got older.

For the people who are going to apply to college soon, keep in mind that extracurricular activities are just as crucial as your GPA and academic achievements – personal values are what the most prestigious institutions are looking for, not just grades. In hindsight, I should have listened to my college counselor earlier. She expounded this exact advice for the past two years. Her words of wisdom didn’t sink in until I reached halfway through the process, and I wish I would have believed her sooner. 

So Jets, dare to dream about what you love. Nobody can take your story away from you. Unless you lose your passion to pursue what you live for, you’ll be fine – even if you don’t have a 1500+ SAT score.