I have high standards.
Let me rephrase that. I impose high standards on myself.
Why would I do something so masochistic? Why do I care so much about seemingly small things?
It starts with what year it is. I am currently wading through the mire of spring semester of my junior year in college. My senior friends find every opportunity to frantically articulate their stress concerning graduate schools and careers. Their trepidation to leap into that misnomer of the “real world” is so palpable the campus air needs a purifier so you can breathe comfortably. My fellow juniors are starting to gab nonstop about the future, comparing plans and buying up study books for this or that test.
Inevitably, it leads to discussions about the other important year marker in a school career: junior year of high school. What were your stats? What schools did you consider then versus now? How’s your GPA doing?
I encountered one of these conversations a few weeks back with a senior friend who, when he found out my high school stats, asked me incredulously why I settled, why I didn’t go somewhere else for college. I couldn’t decide if I was flattered or offended by his outburst, but I nevertheless reassured him that I was comfortable with the undergraduate choices I’d made. Which led to discussions of the “future” and further schooling and the advice that I should shoot higher.
I don’t believe there is anything absolute about the school stats that get shoved in the faces of juniors in high school and college alike by ranking companies and advertising campaigns. Rankings are subjective, and enough subcategories exist that it’s nearly impossible to make decisions based solely on those generalized numbers. In the nitty gritty of it, many schools are so similar that one really has to decide what specific qualities they want to experience in the next few years of their life in order to find any kind of superiorities and preferences.
Instead, the statistics I tend to find more useful are the statistics of entering classes. The ranges of test scores and GPAs provide an interesting insight into the minds of admissions committees. They are like strongly worded suggestions. “Be at this level, and your chances go up to x.” “Be below this level, and this committee is making a judgement that your caliber in what they are looking for is, in fact, not what they are looking for.”
What do GPA ranges have to do with my self-imposed high standards of doom and gloom?
They have to do with “Oxbridge,” a celebrity power-couple nickname for Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the U.K. The somewhat misleading over-reliance on school statistics by my peers annoyed me long before I applied for college, but I paid attention to this phenomenon in high school, and I’m paying attention to it again now due to its sheer proliferation around my ears. I decided in high school that I would take my usual practice of holding myself to high standards and apply it directly to academics. I will do good because I can and I have no good reason not to, and if I am “not up to caliber,” it will be because I legitimately feel like I can do better and not because my shortcomings were dictated to me.
Pursuing this task made me curious, and I randomly looked up the entering class statistics for Oxford and Cambridge. I decided that they looked reasonable as a tool for setting my goals in standards, and “Oxbridge” became my magic word for where I wanted to be. I recently have done this again as a means to check myself in considering graduate schools.
This isn’t because Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard or Stanford or any other school considered top-grade is my goal. I’m not working this hard, stumbling my way around life, failing and getting back up, only to be able to say that I made it to a top-ranked place. Being my best self is my goal, and doing my best in however the situation calls for is my standard.
“Oxbridge” is my magic word, so that when the talk and Facebook posts of school statistics and life plans gets too overbearing, I can remember that reaching a certain rank isn’t going to fix me for life. I have to much self-pride and love of challenges to accept something like that.