When I woke up on the morning of Dec. 13, I felt like death.
It had been a rough night, full of bad dreams, haunting visions and phantom admissions letters starting with: “William: We regret to inform you that…”
It was, of course, the morning of the day that my fate was to be decided — the morning I would find out about my early admissions decision to Williams.
The week preceding D-Day (Decision-Day; but I thought perhaps the military abbreviation would be more appropriate) wasn’t actually too bad. I found out that Monday that I had been admitted to St. John’s College, which gave some brief but welcome reprieve from the constant fretting over admission to my early decision school.
But as Monday night ended and Tuesday began, my stress level began to rise again.
Wednesday morning was even worse — there was only one day left — and by 10 p.m. on Wednesday I was having a veritable breakdown.
Sure, the thought of finding out once and for all was exhilarating, but it was entirely mitigated by the terrifying possibility (or, perhaps more honestly, probability) of getting rejected. What if they didn’t like my essays? What if my grades were too low? Would they even read my application? How many other people were applying?
I tried to assuage my fears by turning to the Web, specifically to the dangerous (and intimidating) waters of College Confidential, but that only made the situation worse. I felt guilty for even daring to apply to Williams with less than a 4.3 grade-point average and a 2400 SAT. Couple that with the fact that I would literally find out my decision in front of all of my friends — I was flying to Minneapolis Thursday night for a debate tournament — and it was a recipe for disaster.
In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine how I even made it through the day; every class seemed like just another long step in the countdown to 8 p.m. Every lesson and joke and conversation was dulled with the nervousness of an undecided future. But then, as the school day came to an end, and I rode with my debate team to the airport, and we got through security and to our terminal, it finally happened: The clock struck 8.
I went immediately to the myapplication.williams.edu Web site on my phone and cautiously entered my user name and password. After about my third try, I got through and saw what I had been wishing and hoping and praying for for the last three months, scrawled across the bottom in tiny black font:
Congratulations William, we are pleased to welcome you to the Williams Class of 2017.
My heart skipped a beat and I made a (rather large) scene in the airport, hugging my friends, calling my parents and even high-fiving a good-natured T.S.A. guy. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
But, of course, it couldn’t last forever. And even though I’m still ecstatic about my admission to what I fully believe is the best college in the country, I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty. I was, after all, the beneficiary of good luck at the “lunatic fringe” of college admissions. And while I ultimately ended up happy, it’s hard knowing that many of my friends, all of whom are much more interesting and hard-working and qualified than myself, received disappointing news; that not everyone I know is sharing in my joy.
My best friend, for example, found out he was deferred from his dream school the day after my admissions decision came out. And it’s not his fault. Even though he’s smart and conscientious and savvy and selfless, he wasn’t as lucky as I was; his admissions officers were crankier than mine or had been through more applications or had already accepted enough people from northeastern Ohio.
And so, while I’m thrilled about the outcome of my personal story, I’m also trying not to be so solipsistic as to think that everyone else shares in my glee. I was, after all, the recipient of a tremendous amount of generosity on the behalf of the Williams admissions staff, and there’s not a second that goes by that I forget how thankful I am for everything I’ve received.
So, all in all, this week has been a mixed bag: a lot of happiness, in the middle of a lot of pain and disappointment. But for all those still struggling or worrying about the college process, I have a few words of my own half-baked but heart-felt advice for you: Look on the bright side. If my dream can come true, pretty much anyone’s can. As long as you make a decision you believe in, you’ll be happy for the next four years; it’s just a matter of figuring out what that decision is. And so, while my story may have already ended, it’s very possible that yours could just be beginning.
Mr. Walker, a student at University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio, is one of eight seniors around the world blogging about their college searches for The Choice. To comment on what he has written, please use the comment box below.
The Envelope, Please
Will Walker, a student at University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio, is one of eight high school seniors around the world blogging about their college searches.
Some classic questions from previous years…
Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, AB'16
Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020
What's so odd about odd numbers?
–Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB'09
Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020
In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness." In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
– Inspired by Emily Driscoll, Class of 2018
Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
– Inspired by Zilin Cui, Class of 2018
The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain. Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?
–Inspired by Tess Moran, AB'16
How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.
–Inspired by Florence Chan, AB'15
The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.
—Inspired by April Bell, Class of 2017, and Maya Shaked, Class of 2018 (It takes two to tango.)
"A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies." –Oscar Wilde. Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. Autobots and Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
–Inspired by Martin Krzywy, AB'16.
Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).
–Inspired by Doran Bennett, BS'07
Susan Sontag, AB'51, wrote that "[s]ilence remains, inescapably, a form of speech." Write about an issue or a situation when you remained silent, and explain how silence may speak in ways that you did or did not intend. The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.
"…I [was] eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present." –The Rose Rabbi by Daniel Stern
1. Something that is offered, presented, or given as a gift.
Let's stick with this definition. Unusual presents, accidental presents, metaphorical presents, re-gifted presents, etc. — pick any present you have ever received and invent a past for it.
—Inspired by Jennifer Qin, AB'16
So where is Waldo, really?
–Inspired by Robin Ye, AB'16
–Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK
Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
–Inspired by an alumna of the Class of 2006
How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
–Proposed by Kelly Kennedy, AB'10
Chicago author Nelson Algren said, "A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street." Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
UChicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
–Inspired by Anna Andel
"Don't play what's there, play what's not there."—Miles Davis (1926–91)
–Inspired by Jack Reeves
University of Chicago alumna and renowned author/critic Susan Sontag said, "The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions." We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
–Inspired by Aleksandra Ciric
"Mind that does not stick."
–Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)
Superstring theory has revolutionized speculation about the physical world by suggesting that strings play a pivotal role in the universe. Strings, however, always have explained or enriched our lives, from Theseus's escape route from the Labyrinth, to kittens playing with balls of yarn, to the single hair that held the sword above Damocles, to the Old Norse tradition that one's life is a thread woven into a tapestry of fate, to the beautiful sounds of the finely tuned string of a violin, to the children's game of cat's cradle, to the concept of stringing someone along. Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon.
–Inspired by Adam Sobolweski
Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We've bought it, but it didn't stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
–Inspired by Katherine Gold
People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language—the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the vocabulary that spills out when you're startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
–Inspired by Kimberly Traube