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Creating that "spike"

Maya Abiram

By Maya Abiram4 Jul 2020

When I was a child, I did every extracurricular humanely possible. And yes, I mean that. I was a student, athlete, and servant in swimming, tae kwon do, track, tennis, math competitions, singing, piano and Girl Scouts. I was very privileged, of course, in that my parents never pushed me extremely hard and were willing to drive me to classes provided they weren't too expensive. And I still had loads of free time, playing and obsessing over Barbies, legos, pumpkin patches, Disneyland, and having sleepovers with my friends. Life was great. I didn't have much homework, and I could still dabble in hobbies I was somewhat interested in, right? However, I was never particularly good at one thing. I soon disliked swimming once I was forced to attend regular competitive meets. Tae kwon do was something everyone in the Bay Area attended, and I never got my black belt. I was decent at tennis, but I hated the pressure of tournaments, where my legs would turn into jelly, wobbling while I sprinted to the next shot. Track was fine, but it was just because I wanted to make friends with the relay team. Singing, Girl Scouts, and piano were great, but I never had the discipline to carry through. I was only half decent at math competitions because being "intrinsically good" at critical problem solving. I didn't know what that meant, but even if I did, it still wouldn't be true. Then middle school rolled around. I couldn't handle the load, and I was faced with a reality. If I was loaded in 6th grade ... what was I going to do in the future? I sat down with my mom and wanted to focus on a few things and do them particularly well. Finally we settled on tennis, Girl Scouts/service, and math competitions. Partly because I could do them well, partly because I was more interested in them. I thought being well rounded was how "accomplished people got into college". You needed to do 3 varsity sports, play in marching band, and be class president for a shot at a top college. Of course, that was a distant vision back then, but documenting my evolution of perspectives is quite interesting. High school came around, and people were telling me something different: "being well rounded doesn't get you into college. You need a spike". I didn't have any spike, and I wasn't well rounded. This was a blur of confusion, and I felt like colleges wanted someone of a perfect mold, a robot made from a factory that needs just the right parts, and I didn't know what those right parts were. I was torn between what I wanted from myself, what my parents wanted, and what college wanted from me. Struggling through difficult classes and extracurriculars, I decided to throw it out the window. Okay, Maya. What do you want to do? What is YOUR goal, not anyone else's? Deeply reflecting, I grew comfortable. Math was really interesting without the competitive aspect, so I did research, projects, and other related extracurriculars where I could just be free to ponder about complex problems with a group of people. Tennis was really fun, so I played on my school's team, but that was it. No competitions that turned my legs to jelly. I was open minded, and on that first Club Info Day, I changed my career trajectory: I joined Model UN. And that was the best decision of high school hands down. Through math, I gained the knowledge to address issues objectively through calculations and hard data. Through Model UN, I learned about politics and the problems our society faces. I rekindled with Girl Scouts, and realized what I really wanted to do, and how I could make my mark on the world: Using math to help solve problems affecting the most marginalized groups, whether it be through economics or policy analysis. I never found my true spike these past 18 years. I was not the perfect well rounded student. However, I knew what I loved doing, and how I could use that to make a mark on the world. I stayed honest to myself. And honestly, that is what a college wants to see. With a more competitive class applying each year, colleges don't want that genius intellect math olympiad winner who cannot communicate to collaborate or effect change, although being great at a specific subject COULD help. They don't want 1600 SAT typical students who are only doing things for the sake of college, where they won't try to make an impact or drive themselves. You don't need fancy classes, or perfect scores. Throughout high school, I didn't pay for a single extracurricular or standardized testing prep class, and I didn't receive perfect scores. The college app process is DEHUMANIZING and FLAWED, trust me. But there's also a tiny bit of merit to it, and only now do I somewhat understand.