Destination Now Approaching: College Admissions

Seniors in high school everywhere around the country have been humming in anticipation. In the last week college admission committees have sent out their final decisions to this year’s pool of applicants. The preconditions of where we will come to shape our future selves hinged on their decisions. This momentous week seemed like a good opportunity to write a personal update about much of what’s going on in my life and my thoughts on this pivotal period.

Because I haven’t had the time to write much, which will continue to be true for a few more months, I’ve been hesitant to divulge pieces of my worldview without having time to elaborate on and qualify many aspects of it, but I decided a partial picture was better than none at all. A lot of people have asked me about college and what I will be up to next year. Now I will let you know.

College Applications

I only completed two applications. I filled out the UC Application and submitted it to four UC Campuses. I got into the UC Berkeley and the honors program at UC Santa Barbara. The other school I applied to was Stanford, where I applied early decision and was deferred. This afternoon I found out I was not granted admittance.

Why did I only apply to two schools?

When I started the college search process last year I had my heart set on University of Pennsylvania. I was almost sure I wanted to go East. And I was bent on getting into their Management & Technology program. Early on in my teenage years I developed a strong but abstract desire that I wanted to do something important with my life. I didn’t yet know how, but I knew I wanted to make an impact. In my voracious pursuit of big ideas, I read lots of books on information theory, cosmology and the nature of the universe. Soon after I found the Accelerating Change conferences and downloaded hundreds of talks onto my iPod. It soon became clear that science and technology would have an exponentiating impact and dramatically transform human society over my lifetime. It was then I knew I was going to somehow be part of harnessing that power for the betterment of the world. For awhile I thought my avenue of impact would be by directly accelerating innovation through scientific research. I soon found out this was not my forte and transitioned my focus to business and entrepreneurship. But business had a stuffy, stagnant feel in a way I learned entrepreneurship did not.  As entrepreneurship shifted from a desired lifestyle to an adopted lifestyle so shifted my decision about the best school for me.

I began to explore the incredible concentration of people and resources in the Bay Area. I began to start my own projects, meet more people and become more involved with the communities that previously only existed as words on a page.  Working in Silicon Valley this summer at the Institute for the Future was a pivotal point for me. I realized that given my interests the Bay Area was where I was meant to be. I developed a palpable momentum driving down a path I knew I couldn’t get off of anytime soon.  I couldn’t just takeoff off to the otherside of the country and start over. And I knew I couldn’t accomplish everything I wanted to by the end of senior year in high school so naturally two things happened: 1) Stanford became my first choice and 2) When my friend Ben planted the seed of taking a gap year, I knew it was something I had to do. The potential upside of a gap year is so huge and I have learned so much more the last few years outside of school than inside, that I need to find out what I can accomplish when I am in control of my time and my learning for an entire year.

The reason I applied to only two schools is because I believe in maximizing the best opportunity. Since I can only choose one school, maximizing the chances of seizing the best opportunity is more important than the number of opportunities. Quality over quantity.  And because I knew I was going to take a gap year even if I got into Stanford, it didn’t make sense to apply to schools knowing if not accepted, I was going apply to Stanford again, among other schools, on my year off. Yes, it is extra work and a pain in the ass, but as I’ve heard many times college admissions is a crapshoot. Since I have the opportunity to apply again, I might as well roll the dice twice for a decision that could have such a big effect on my life. They deferred less than 5% and rejected over 80% at least I know I’m somewhere in the top 20% and am hoping what I accomplish the next year will push me over the top.

My thoughts As I Found Out Today

It hit me a lot harder even when I found out I was deferred in December. I think this is because I’m so much farther along in all my endeavors that I’m way less dependent on Stanford to get where I want to go. I’m amazed at my own composure and have surprised myself how stoic I am right now. I think it’s because my identity is so loosely tied to the school I will attend. A school is just one stepping stone on a long journey. And I’m confident I’m headed down a road that will take me challenging and exciting places.

I hate it when people rationalize that everything happens for a reason. My mind wants to go there too, but that would be wrong. There is none of  this, “it just wasn’t meant to be” shit. Things don’t always work out for the best and that’s life! My ceiling is probably a bit lower. My rate of progress slowed just a bit. I’m disappointed, but I know as long as I have my health I’ll be ok.

To all of you who got into your dream school and are jumping for joy and to all of you thinking this is the worst day of life, realize that you are not where you go to college. Both the excitement and the disappointment will fade and you will have a life ahead of you wide open with possibilities that only you can shape into something you are satisfied with through hard work, persistence and a little imagination.

Going to Stanford would be amazing, but I don’t need them to get where I want to go. Clearly, I think they have the best environment of any institution in the country for helping me to achieve my goals and potential. But I don’t need an educational institution, nobody does. An institution can only help shape and accelerate potential, but ultimately it all comes down to you. Stanford would hasten and expand my opportunities. But ultimately I still have to seize the opportunities myself.  And I will find and create opportunities with or without Stanford. I have a year off starting at the end of May, enrolled in no program but the one I create for myself.

Unfortunately, a fair amount of this whole admission process is out of my hands. I did all I could and put the onus on the admission committee to make the right decision, unfortunately they made a mistake. I will apply again in November a year more accomplished, a year older and a year wiser and will just have to hope that when the time comes they’ll make the right decision.

Lots of people told me they expected me to get in. I really appreciate the faith people have put me in recently. Even though my chance of being admitted this year faded, that faith and trust did not. I’m really thankful for all the people I’ve met this last year. It’s been an amazing ride and the number one reason I feel good about where I’m headed is because of the people I’ve met along the way. I’m humbled by the generosity of so many  people who have taken time out of their busy lives to give me support, advice and have helped me get off the ground.  I look forward to continuing to work together, to share experiences and build lasting friendships. I promise I will not let you down.

What Am I Doing On My Gap Year?

The quick list for my gap year is:

1. Reading 2. Writing 3. Meeting more people, networking, strengthening weak ties. 4. Starting a non-profit called Force For the Future 5. Internships 6. Traveling

At some point I will have more time to write about my decision making process, why I am choosing to do these things, and why I believe this is the best way to carve out a dynamic life uniquely suited for me.

I wonder where I’m headed now. I know I’ll be fine and I’m happy I’m taking the rejection well, (often there’s a disconnect between how I feel and how I know I should feel), I’ve got more than a year ahead of me and a lot of exciting things on the horizon the next few years, I just hope Stanford will still be in the cards.