How self-acceptance helped an ‘average’ student


Emily shows how ‘average’ students can be motivated to do their best

When Emily Park got to high school, she quickly noticed that she wasn’t in any of the same classes as those in her friend group from middle school. They talked about struggling through math concepts with which Emily wasn’t even familiar.

“Comparing myself to my friends who are academically advanced, I felt inferior. This contributed to a barrier between us as I tried to measure up to them,” she said.

Emily says that while she is an average student in the broader high school world, she is below average at the high-ranking Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

But by her senior year, something clicked.

She wrote in her Common App essay: “In a competitive environment like my high school, average students like myself can be the most determined to give their best performance in whatever arena. Now, when I see an ‘average’ peer, I no longer see someone who blends in and doesn’t have much to offer. I value that person as an individual with his or her own unique story and who can stand out in a unique way. People must first accept where they are on an ability scale. They must be patient with themselves—understanding how they learn and progress—to reach their full potential and shine from wherever they are.”

Emily experienced this personally as a member of her high school color guard for four years.

Preparation before every color guard performance was rigorous; accuracy for every movement in unison mattered. Emily struggled to nail the dance choreographies and master the flag, rifle, and saber. “I was the last senior in color guard to learn the equipment, and this was something I couldn’t change. But my frustration forced me to change something, and that something was my attitude,” she said. “Instead of shrinking back in discouragement, I stepped up in determination.”

As a result of becoming patient with herself and persisting in practice, Emily was awarded the title of Most Determined in color guard. Soon after, she won the award of Best Performer, which she attributes to her change in attitude. “I experienced more enjoyment in color guard and greater freedom in performance,” she said. “Feelings of inadequacy went away. While performing, no one could tell I was one of the last to learn a routine, and that fact didn’t affect me anymore.”

In addition to gaining a positive perspective, she discovered how she learns best: “Through the training I got in color guard, I realized that I need to think through new material and take things slow.”

She applied this realization to her schoolwork: “I figured out that I’m not like the advanced kids in my grade, and it’s okay. I strive to be good at my grade-level courses in school. I do what I can to the best of my ability, and I’m satisfied with that.”

Emily’s faith was instrumental in finding self-acceptance, as her pastors encouraged her in how she was “fearfully and wonderfully made,” referring to the Bible verse Psalm 139:14. “Just because I’m around certain people doesn’t mean I’m going to turn out the same way. We’re different for a reason,” Emily said.

Being in school on Senior Ditch Day is yet another way Emily will happen to go against the grain. “It’s more useful for me to spend time with the teachers who helped me get through school,” she said matter-of-factly.

More Than SAT walked with Emily through the college application process. She initially thought she “had” to go to a big school with a big name, but after plenty of self-reflection, she happily decided on the smaller, liberal arts institution of Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she will pursue nursing. Congratulations to Emily for finding her right-fit school! This is what we want  for all our college consulting clients.

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