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Ravalations: Sorry, I can’t get your kid into Stanford!

I live for winter break, that refreshing breath of cold air at the end of fall quarter. So much better than Thanksgiving break because the guilt of knowing that there is work to be done doesn’t exist. It’s long enough for me to remember why I missed my family, but not quite long enough for me to remember why I was looking forward to college. Winter break and I have our own personal love affair every year.

 

However, despite my desire to sleep all day and re-watch “The Office,” my parents always feel the need to take me out in public when I’m home. Birthday parties, office parties, Christmas parties — if it takes place during the three weeks that I happen to be present, my mother insists that I attend. So I plaster on my biggest smile, put on my nicest sweater and head out with the family.

 

I’ve been attending these gatherings since I was a kid, and they usually consist of the same routine: various adults I’ve known since birth walk over, hug me while exclaiming how much taller I have gotten (which is fooling no one — I’ve grown half an inch in the last four years) and then quickly lapse into talking to my parents about work or what happened on the last episode of “Ram Milaayi Jodi” (quite possibly the worst, and most addicting, Indian soap opera in the world).

 

The moment I started going to Stanford though, all this changed. Suddenly, people at parties would approach my parents, slowly broach the topic of Stanford in order to confirm that I do indeed go there and then shift over to me while shouting, “You must meet my son/daughter/offspring/pet! They’re applying to Stanford!”

 

Before I know it, I find myself standing face to face with a clearly embarrassed high schooler, with his or her overeager parent hovering. Awkward introductions ensue and then, the questions start.

 

They usually start off simple enough, questions about what I’m majoring in and how I like the campus, but it’s obvious that this isn’t what they really care about. The real Q&A begins when the parents start to ask about my high school career — what extracurriculars I participated in, whether or not I took four consecutive years of a language and what I got on my SAT, you know, just out of “curiosity.” The adults take notes and nudge their kids, and they tend to end the conversation by asking for my email.

 

Normally, the conversations are harmless enough. They give me a reason to blab on until the party winds down and I can go home to watch the episode where Dwight’s stapler winds up in Jello. There’s always one question I dread though, and that’s the moment when the parent jokingly looks at me and goes, “So, what’s your secret? How does one get into Stanford?” See, here’s the problem: it’s clearly not in jest; this parent wants an answer, and they’re usually not pleased when I tell them I don’t have one.

 

I have yet to figure out what to say to someone who wants to know the secret to getting in. Ever since I got my acceptance, everyone around me seems to think I have all the answers. I’ve been asked to review applications, read personal statements and give advice to kids I barely know. People seem to think I’m hiding something from them when I tell them I’m not qualified to review their kid’s materials.

 

I’m not quite sure how to make it clear that there is no surefire recipe for getting into Stanford. Coming here has only proven that to me. I am vastly different from my friends here. We have different interests, come from different backgrounds and are pursuing different career paths, but at the end of the day, we all go to Stanford.

 

Instead of boring my new audience with my thoughts though, I’ve settled for a much easier answer. I respond to the question with a smile and the most clichéd line in the book: “Just be yourself. I’m still not sure why I got in, but I know that I’m happier at Stanford than I would be anywhere else.”

 

Tell Ravali your favorite prank on “The Office” at ravreddy “at” stanford “dot” edu.

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