When I first arrived on campus as a freshman, I was a bundle of emotions: excited to start a new part of my life, scared due to the newness of it all and beyond nervous to see if I would succeed. My definition of “success” at Georgetown was similar to that of most of my fellow incoming freshmen. I wanted a cool group of friends who understood me and were also willing to pose for numerous Instagram photos, successful professors to mentor me and appreciate my work and acceptance into Georgetown’s most prestigious extracurricular activities. Now, to others that may seem like a lot. But I soon came to realize that at Georgetown, such expectations were the definition of normal.
When you pile a bunch of overachieving, motivated young adults in a single location, competition begins to take a life of its own. I know almost all of us have been asked the three most common “get to know you” questions when first making a new acquaintance. School, major and what do you do on campus? Now, the first two, I’m sure, are quite common across college campuses. However, the third is uniquely Georgetown. The first time I was asked that question, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Do I list out all the clubs I’m part of? Or list my hobbies? What exactly does this person want to know about me? I began to think, and honestly believe, that the number and prestige of the clubs I was part of defined my Georgetown experience. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.
As application deadlines for clubs and activities approached, it was like I was applying to several mini-colleges, each with its own set of essays, interviews and expectations. The real pressure though, as with the college application process, came with the acceptances and, of course, the dreaded rejections.
Thank you for your interest in (insert name of club). This year set a record for applications, resulting in the most competitive applicant pool we’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer you an (interview/position) at this time.”
These words began to appear often in my mailbox. However, it wasn’t necessarily all bad. The first rejection, I must admit, was brutal. I wondered what was wrong with me, if I even belonged at Georgetown. But after the second and the third, I guess you could say I got over it. I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t let the rejections stop me from applying to other things. I didn’t let them define who I was as an individual. Many of my fellow students were crushed, having never been rejected from anything in their lives (except, probably, the Ivies). They thought, as I had originally believed, that the committee might have made a mistake. That on this beautiful campus, they were the ones who did not belong: a freshman nightmare come true.
Since Georgetown is one of the top schools in the country, it should be accepted that competition is a norm. But what is not acceptable is the degree of emotional damage that this sort of competition inflicts on the individuals just wishing to fit in at a new place.
Not only are extracurricular activities important on a resume, their place in Georgetown’s social spectrum should be noted. Clubs on the Hilltop are much like Greek life at other schools. You hang out with fellow members, sometimes live with them and most definitely party with them. Obviously, getting rejected is a part of life, and if learned early on, it becomes easier to deal with. The problem comes when such rejection convinces individuals to give up because the competition is too stiff.
When I left high school, I told myself I was going to try new things. I wanted to become a better me (as corny as that sounds), and I believed that college was the best place to explore options that had never been open to me before. Since Model United Nations was nonexistent at my high school, I wanted to give it a try at Georgetown. However, after getting rejected from multiple clubs, I was afraid to branch out. The kids that ended up joining the competitive Model UN team were mostly those with previous experience, and I, instead of trying something new, stuck with what I was used to. The part that upsets me the most is that I didn’t even apply.
I know of many students with similar stories, sticking to what they know instead of what they wished they knew. I mean, when you have to fill out applications to volunteer, you know that something isn’t right. Overall, my experience at Georgetown hasn’t been a bad one. In fact, it’s the opposite. I’ve had the time of my life. Those little instances where people ask me what I do on campus, when my friends get into a new club and I feel like I’m doing less, stick with me. College is supposed to be about trying new things and learning about life, but if you’re never given a chance, how is that supposed to happen? As a new batch of freshmen descends upon campus, I suggest that we try to change the mindset surrounding what “success” really means at Georgetown — that it’s not what you do here, but who you are.
Phalguni Vetrichelvan is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.
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