The End Is Near
Pre-meds fly off to different corners of the country for medical school interviews, giving their roommates a brief respite from their anal ways. Recruiting types in jacket and tie overrun introductory meetings like desperate lemmings, stuffing their faces with finger food while making pathetic attempts to schmooze employers. Aspiring lawyers sit in front of their computers, struggling to infuse their law school personal statements with wisdom and eloquence.
Senior year has arrived for the members of the class of 1996, and it's definitely an exciting time for many of us. For those of you who are not seniors, read on and see what excitement the future holds for you.
As seniors, we are being forced to think about what the future holds for us out there in "the real world." When we bump into friends in the Yard or in the dining hall, we have a new question to ask each other: "So, what will you be up to next year?" The prospect of leaving the ivory tower and finding our way in the world outside is in many ways a daunting one. For those seniors without concrete plans for the future, it can be an especially frightening prospect.
To stave off the terrifying confrontation with reality for a few more years, some of us have committed ourselves to pursuing further education. We then find ourselves caught up in the dizzying swirl of applying to graduate school, law school, medical school and frightening combinations of the three.
But graduate education is very different from the idyllic world of undergraduate life. These schools are preprofessional in nature. They seek to prepare their students for future careers as professors, lawyers or doctors. Concerns about employment and making oneself "marketable" to potential employers hang over the entire graduate school experience like a dark cloud.
In addition to anxiety about leaving the womb of Mother Harvard, senior year is also marked by the return of the feeling of intense competition that many of us have not known since high school. For some students, such as premeds, Harvard has been a stressful environment from start to finish. But the rest of us have been focused more on setting our own personal goals and meeting them, as opposed to beating out the competition and being the person who ruins the grading curve.
Now we must once again put ourselves into situations where third parties weigh our relative merits against those of our classmates. We take our lives and our educations in all of their complexity and distill them down into a few basic numbers and short essays. We take the products of this distillation and present the entire package to one committee or another--a fellowships selection committee, a law or medical school admissions committee, a hiring committee at some high-powered firm. We make ourselves vulnerable to the harshest rejection.
We view the results of these processes as one big referendum on our college career. If we receive the privilege that we seek, then our time at Harvard as been a success. If our application is denied, then our college career has been a miserable failure.
Rejection letters have not yet arrived for most of these processes. But when they do, many of us will feel like our lives have fallen apart. It's important for us to have a sense of perspective. We must keep in mind that our worth as individuals is independent of whether we get accepted or rejected by the graduate school of our choice.
For those of you who are not yet seniors, I would like to tell you that all the old cliches about enjoying your college years are true. These may be some of the best years of your life--they certainly have been for me. Take advantage of the rest of your time at Harvard. It is true that this campus suffers from its fair share of liberal dogma and political correctness. But with a small amount of effort and independent thought, you can receive an excellent education and a wonderful college experience from a truly fine institution.
David B. Lat's column appears an alternate Tuesdays.