Most of us can remember exactly where we were when we received our fat acceptance letters from Swarthmore. Maybe you were alone in your room, or you had Mom and Dad hovering over your shoulder, or like me, you were holding the phone a foot from your ear while your mom read it to you.
In any case, it was a personal experience. After months of fretting over if your common app essays really represented “you,” of worrying that you didn’t fill out every box for volunteer experience, and of having to answer endless questions from mere acquaintances about what you’re going to do when you graduate, it was the final validation that ended the emotional rollercoaster. And, well, if you got rejected from every other school you applied to, you could bury the letters, burn them, or stuff them down the garbage disposal. The results were yours to share or take to your grave.
Not so for Rachel Yang ’16, who blogged about her experiences for The New York Times throughout her entire application process. Laying it all on the table, she offered up her worries, her self-doubts, and the results of every application. We caught up with Yang to ask her about her experience and her final decision.
Max Nesterak: Over the past year you wrote posts for The New York Times’ blog about college admissions called “The Choice.” Coming from Minnetonka, MN, you’re a bit far from the Times. How did you start blogging for them?
Rachel Yang: They sent out applications to my high school, and teachers could nominate students. My English teacher nominated me, so I filled it out and sent it in. It was just some basic questions like “Where are you planning on applying?”, “What do you want to study?”, “What would be factors influencing your decision?”
MN: You were accepted at every college you applied to including Swarthmore, Wesleyan, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. That’s a huge accomplishment not many people can boast about. But each step of the process – and this is familiar to everyone – is fraught with uncertainty, self-doubt, and probably every other emotion at once. Did it make it more stressful to be sharing this experience with everybody?
RY: So when I was called down to the college center and asked if I wanted to fill out [the application for The New York Times], I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do it because I was already kind of uncertain about the college thing and how it was going to go, and what if every place rejected me, and then everyone would know about it.
It actually ended up being a little bit cathartic to be able to say all these things. I did get a lot of support from people in the comments, who were like “Oh, I know how you feel.” It ended up not being as nerve-racking and as awful to share all of my thoughts. It seemed like a lot of the other blogs were about logistics and the process, and at first I felt kind of dumb because I felt like the only person so emotionally invested and spilling her guts all over the page. But I’m feeling better about it now that it got so emotional because it’s more representative of the process.
MN: You received a lot of comments on your posts. Some commented offering the most basic advice out there like “have you considered making a pro and con list,” a married pair of Swarthmore alumni (it is a Quaker matchbox) talked about their experiences at Swat, and you got comments from students at both Northwestern and Swarthmore urging you to come to their college. How did these comments affect your decision-making?
RY: In the end I felt accountable to too many people. My friends’ parents and my parents’ friends and people I know peripherally and everyone who’s reading this blog has something to contribute. I think that’s what really got overwhelming. Like seeing these comments that are like “What did you decide?” “What did you decide?” And it’s like even these people who I don’t even know are waiting around to hear. I think that subconsciously really got to me and made it hard for me to make a decision. It the end it had to be my own thing, so I kind of got to this place where I was trying to shut everyone else’s opinions out, but I don’t know how well it worked. I tried to have the comments not affect my decision, but a lot of the things people were saying were really helpful. It was good to hear people’s experiences but I don’t think it had a ton of influence on my decision.
MN: You talk a lot in your blog about how you figured out what you wanted in a college: academic intensity, a respect for work, and a commitment to quality. Has Swarthmore lived up to your expectations so far?
RY: So far yes. I’ve only been here a week. I feel like that describes all the places I applied to.
MRN: Right, then what was the deciding factor?
RY: I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. In end I did waver between Swarthmore and Northwestern, and then over the summer I was like, maybe I should have picked Wesleyan. I also feel like having written this blog, it stayed with me for longer because I could go back and look at everything I said because it’s out there and published. I feel all the events of the past year have stuck with me more than they’ve stuck with my friends.
Actually my last blog post never went up. I got into this kind of thing at the end of the year. What happened was, I sent my deposit to Swarthmore and it was May first. Then later that day I called and cancelled and got in touch with Northwestern and sent my deposit there. But then Jim Bock sent me an email – because we had kind of been in touch through the spring – saying he knew this was a hasty decision for me, so he’d give me until the end of the week to reconsider.
MN: Is that all it said?
RY: Yeah that was all it said. It was one line of text, but I got it at one in the morning. At first I was like no way, but then I thought about it. I can’t even tell you what fueled my decision in the end.
MN: You mention you wanted to study journalism or English. Are you working for a newspaper on campus? You don’t write for The Daily Gazette yet.
RY: Not yet. It is something I would be interested in doing. I’m also interested in radio, so I’m thinking about War News Radio.
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