AN Essay Contest HOSTED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
DOTDASH MEREDITH & REAL SIMPLE
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays.
a lesson in pressure & prestige
By Megan Xing
Written after submitting my Early Decision application, this essay shares the epiphany I was already having—one expedited by a choice that held so much weight over my future.
The fluorescent screen of my laptop illuminates my dark bedroom. I slowly hit Command+V and watch my final supplement for my final school fill the empty white box. The submission process is the same for this school as it is for all the others, but should it really feel the same? My hand pauses, cursor hovering over the SUBMIT button.
This is my Early Decision school. Shouldn’t it feel more exciting?
I switch tabs, returning to the University of Chicago homepage. It’s an amazing school, certainly, but is it my favorite? My arm brushes a sheet of wrinkled looseleaf, half-covered by equations. I turn it over and uncap a pen.
Reasons I’m EDing UChicago: 1. My mother said I’d be an idiot to waste my ED 2. The acceptance rate is 6% 3. It’s ranked #6 nationally.
I stare at the page. Nausea is beginning to crawl into my stomach. I start a new list.
Reasons I Chose UChicago Over UIowa: 1. It’s better ranked.
I ball the paper up, throat tightening. I can’t start overthinking this now. Not after everything else is already submitted. What’s the point?
But I can’t stop this train of thought. It’s a realization seventeen years in the making: no matter how cynical and logical and self-aware I consider myself, I’m choosing my college—four years of the most specialized education I’ll ever receive—based on the weight of everyone else’s opinion.
Growing up with immigrant parents, things were decided through rankings. Over the years, constantly attending the second-best gradually chipped at my self-esteem: going to Russell Sage instead of NEST, BSGE instead of Hunter, Bronx Science instead of Stuyvesant. I told myself other people’s opinions didn’t matter, but there is something so uniquely degrading about naming your school and receiving only a blank look in response, or out-of-state friends saying, “I don’t know much about New York schools, I’ve only heard of Stuyvesant”. Eventually, this made me desperate to attend a school everyone knows of—to receive an invariable awestruck look, one of recognition.
My parents only made matters worse. In China, they use the gaokao; instead of writing essays, they study their entire lives for one exam that determines their college. A high rank secures your future. Consequently, they cared only about prestige. I once asked my mother if I could tour some campuses (“Just my dream schools, Mom”). She scoffed, “What does the campus matter? I’m not paying for the buildings or the students. I’m paying for the school.” They also spoke dismissively about community college. I remember being seven years old and walking down Austin Street with my mom. When we passed BramsonORT College, my mom joked, “Maybe you’ll have to go to BramsonORT. Then you can just live at home!”
I have tried to rebel against this elitist sentiment many times over the years. I’m an independent person, so I hate being controlled. But no matter how much I try to quash that omnipresent craving for external validation, it’s never quite sated.
As I switch back to the Common App tab, it hits me. Prestige is a cyclical representation of other people’s opinions, the same opinions determining how far I go in life. To an immigrant-born teenager attending a specialized high school, it’s an inescapable factor. I could defy that expectation, choosing what makes me happy at the risk of failure and chancing never again receiving my parents’ praise. Or I can shove this newfound realization into the dark recesses of my mind and do what’s expected of me.
The seconds tick by. The screen glows harshly in the blackness.
I click SUBMIT.
My Simple Realization: An Essay Contest & Story Collection
14 Girls Write Now mentees share mini- and mega-moments of clarity in these personal essays. This contest was produced in partnership with Dotdash Meredith and the team at Real Simple as part of the SeeHer Initiative.
A junior in high school, Megan Xing began writing at a very young age. She had loved to read even before she started school, and upon discovering her father’s computer in kindergarten, she learned she had an attraction to writing as well. Her favorite genres are narrative, memoir, fiction and fantasy, and she is increasingly eager to explore the worlds of poetry and film as well.