Waiting to Hear from College and a Winning Essay

The high school seniors I know who are applying to college are all getting ulcers as they wait to hear back from schools, their parents are scrambling to submit financial information, and everyone is feeling nervous.

As part of the Cornell Alumni Ambassadors network, I interviewed three candidates applying to Cornell, where I did my undergraduate degree. They were all impressive 18-year-olds. My fingers are crossed for them.

College admissions have gotten so competitive. It can be psychologically devastating to these young adults to work so hard on their grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities and then not get into their first-choice schools.

It’s hard not to take the rejection personally. When you get rejected, you want to crawl under the covers and hide there, preferably for the rest of your life.

My little sister is a freshman at Smith College. My dad and her mom, by their own admission, are still reeling from the stress of last year’s college application process.

Kate was accepted early admission. After she visited the campus, she knew Smith was the school she wanted to attend.

Kate’s been suggesting I write a blog post about her for a long time (Kate, are you reading this?!), and she generously agreed to let me publish the essay that won her early admission to Smith here:


My sister Kate, who goes to Smith College, with Etani, Hesperus, and Athena in Boston when she was 14

My sister Kate, who goes to Smith College, with Etani, Hesperus, and Athena in Boston when she was 14

The Things I Carry by Katherine Margulis
I wrote this essay in response to the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

I carry my violin. I start going through my scales and warm-ups, knowing that I should focus on tuning and bow strokes rather than letting my mind wander, but I can’t help it. I think of my teacher’s words and requests; he wanted me to play triplets, to go slower, to use more bow, and I try to focus back in. Because, along with my violin, I carry desire. I have a desire to please my teacher. I think back to my last lesson; Antoine had been frustrated with my sound at the beginning; it wasn’t big enough, loud enough. Then later in the lesson, with the words of my teacher ringing in my ears, there was a revelation. I had finally done it; I made a huge sound. I had felt myself being swept away in the music, my whole body engrossed in the beauty of the melody, the pitches growing louder in all the right places. My tone was clear and precise and I was perfectly in tune. I couldn’t help the smile that had spread over my face, and it only grew wider when I realized that my teacher was wearing one too. I had carried accomplishment.

But now, alone in my room, without Antoine’s encouraging words to remind me how to produce such a sound, I carry frustration. Trying to recall exactly what I’d done on that day of epiphany, I hear my bow scratch hard into the string. A wash of anger flows over me and I long for my beautiful playing to return. I put my violin down on the couch beside me, shaking out my tired hands and hoping that a break is what I need to bring back my lost music. When I pick my violin up again, carrying my instrument once more, I also carry hope. I hope that this time, my bow will find just the right pressure and speed, my fingers will land in just the right places and my sound will return with the same enlightening warmth and volume that it had at my lesson. I carry my bow, caressing the strings lovingly, pulling hard to make a tone that will grow into a wave of music. But something’s missing, something’s wrong. I remember then, what my teacher told me that lesson: I have to relax.

I take a deep breath now and I carry peace. I begin to play once more and I let go of my frustration and my anger. I drop my desire to please to the ground so that I carry only my violin and my bow. These are all I need. Now I play for only myself and I hear my sound return, more beautiful than ever. I feel myself get swept away by the notes, by the swells and falls of the melody. And finally, I carry music. –KM

Related Posts:
Why Not Harvard?
On Why You Should Try to Cultivate Rejection

Do you worry about your kids getting into college? Is your child or anyone you know waiting to hear back from schools? Why do you think it’s become so much harder to get accepted?

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