I remember sitting in the new building’s relatively large auditorium on my first day of freshman year four years ago. Starry-eyed and intoxicated with the transition from middle school (years of fun and frolic) to the four years of high school that were apparently meant to be the bridge to the rest of your life, I was both scared and excited. I remember being the only student who opted for 11 subjects in grade 9, which invited the nickname “Mr Genius.” More than that, I remember having no clue where I would end up at the end of high school. I didn’t even know about the very existence of any university other than Stanford and Harvard.
I’ve spent the 2102400 minutes between the present and that first day working not for some extrinsic goal, but for myself. I’ve never seen the college admissions mania as something that requires you to mould yourself to wherever you’re applying, or mould yourself to the general applicant pool, or try and resemble that one Russian kid who interned at Google, won the International Math Olympiad, and got his start-up acquired by a Fortune 500 company. On the contrary, rather than fitting myself to a college, I’ve always wanted to fit a college to me, and that’s imparted in me a variety of passions, hobbies, and goals for the future.
Looking back, there’s so much I’ve done and so much that has happened that I would’ve never imagined. It seems only yesterday that I received my first full chemistry grade, played football with my friends, fell just short of my personal goal for my IGCSEs, and took my first step in a whole new world. During this insanely long time period, I never once thought about looking back and seeing how far I’ve come. I can’t imagine going back and telling 9th grade Mehul that he would be here right now.
No matter which college I go to and where I’m accepted, I’m satisfied with the knowledge that I didn’t do what I had to or what was instructed to, but I did what I wanted to, and that should be enough to set me apart from anyone else out there. I’ve taken away something memorable from each experience, from each day, whether be it an academic trait I previously undervalued or a character flaw I worked to correct.
Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be applying to some of the best and definitely the most enriching universities in the world. It excites me and it scares me. I’m afraid of the countless possibilities the future holds, of that lingering doubt that I might not get into this place. At the same time, I’m proud of what I’ve done and excited to continue doing that. Over the past few years I’ve gone from having no clue what to do, to developing visible interests in engineering, computer science, and astrophysics.
While computer science and engineering are domains I feel naturally attracted to, the former being a field wherein I’ve interned, hacked, and programmed, nothing invokes as much awe as astrophysics. This leaves me with a huge decision to make before I apply, what do I want to do at college? Do I want to write code and study algorithms? Do I want to make robots and machines? Do I want to point my eyes into the deepest depths of the cosmos and maybe try exploring it? The answer is, irrefutably and undeniably, is all of them. I’ve never been a person who does just one thing. It’s why I took 11 subjects in grade 9, I can’t stand not doing enough. Even right now, despite being told about the intensive and demanding and 24×7 nature of the college applications process, I want to continue exploring and learning in other domains.
I feel like the world has made it necessary for you to be one person. You’re either an engineer or a computer scientist, there’s no ‘both here. There’s no way to do stuff simultaneously. This leaves me with having to choose between what I feel like is me. It’s like asking me to throw away one interest, neglect another, and choose one as the thing that will define my life.
This is all the more important because both cricket and writing were prominent items on this list of ‘who I am.’ Ask ninth grade me what I wanted to become, and he would probably say “either an astrophysicist, or a player in the Indian cricket team, or an author, or a programmer.” While my list of items that define me may change, the mere fact that I have a list cannot. This certainly makes me question myself, should I let this unidirectional-ness change me? Or should I try and change it on my own personal level?
When talking about the college applications process, everyone says that it is inherently transformative. That while working on your applications and taking a deeper look at yourself than any university will do when putting you up against 50k other applications, you learn who you are and you know what you want to do. I find this notion to be quite absurd, I don’t see any point to applying somewhere if you don’t even know who you are per say. I know I want to go into computer science, mechanical engineering, and astrophysics, all 3 of these collectively. There may be no option to do so, but that’s what I want, and that’s what defines me.
This all connects back to me always doing what I’ve wanted to. You may look at my resume and break it down into a person who has a passion for STEM or a guy with a flair for writing, all of that comes together: my passion for programming, my ardor for engineering, my curiosity in understanding the universe, and my love for writing to make what is irrefutably a personality blend that is, me.