I’ve never really experienced true failure in my life — not with anything that has really counted, anyway. Sure, I’ve had auditions for choir and theater that turned into disappointment, but life went on. There was no real missed opportunity, no chance that the missed opportunity would cause my life to go in an obviously different direction. But in my academic career, I’ve never had doubt about my abilities to perform well overall. There have been one or two classes where I wasn’t sure if my work ethic would show through my grades, but I was confident enough to never let it really bother me, and the desired grade would always pull through. Even when applying for colleges, there was never really any question as to whether I would be accepted or not. It would have truly come as shock to me and my friends if one of the universities I had applied to turned me down. I was always at near the top. Even with the SAT, I was so confident that I never once did study for the damn thing. I walked into the test room not with a sense of nervousness, but with a sense of boredom. It was always a guarantee, just like the grades in a class or the score on standardized tests.
Don’t mistake my tone for cockiness or that I’m trying to show off. I almost never slacked off in school and I worked hard for my grades, but the hard work came naturally to me. People gasp at the fact that I will be taking 8 classes and writing a thesis paper and continue to be a resident assistant all in one semester. They think I’m crazy, but to me it is just another semester. I’m used to the heavy workload, I’ve been doing it since 7th grade, so for me it isn’t heavy. It’s just a workload. And because of that I was always fairly confident. I am not overly clever, just smart enough to keep me afloat. Until now.
Now I am starting to feel the anxiety of uncertainty. I will be applying to graduate schools in the next few months, and it turns out I’m not at the top anymore. Compared to others in my same field of study, I’ve become average, and sometime lower than average. I’m competing with the top of the class now, and I fall behind. Friends are baffled by this statement when I tell them my GPA is a measly 3.7 on a 4.0 scale.
Being accepted into graduate programs isn’t a guarantee like it was for my undergrad. 200-500 prospective graduate students apply to each program, all just as good or better as me, and only 20-40 students are accepted each year. The average GPA for those accepted is a 3.9 on a 4.0 scale. I’m not a shoo-in anymore. I’m actually competing, and there is a very real chance that I won’t be accepted into any programs at all. I’ve heard stories of girls with a 4.0 and an excellent resume apply to 15 some-odd graduate programs and not be accepted into any of them. I’ve heard stories of girls applying for 4+ years, and still they are denied. My field is ridiculously competitive, to say the least. And now I know the feeling of true uncertainty. Of true panic.
At this point my life can essentially go either one of two ways: I get into grad school or I don’t. It’s terrifying to think that the direction of my life for the next few years is to be determined by a panel of people I have never met, who are meeting me for the first time on a piece of paper. I suppose I had to face this sort of fear sooner or later, so thank goodness I can get acquainted with it sooner. And now I’m frantically studying for the GRE and trying my damnedest to make myself look as good on paper as I possibly can.
All I can really do is try my best and hope that is good enough. But it very well might not be.