I am not good enough.
This is a thought many have had, though we usually get over it. However, when we see TikToks and reels of teens who are quite literally changing the world we can’t help but feel inadequate. One of the biggest motivators for these high schoolers is college admission, especially to elite colleges.
Incoming Harvard University student Olivia Zhang recently posted a reel about what she did to make sure she was accepted into the Ivy League.
@livvia.zhang SHAMELESS SELF-PROMO: Join Cancer Kids First🎗️ #collegeadmissions #collegeapplications #ivyleague #harvard #stanford #extracurriculars #commonapp ♬ original sound - Liv
Zhang, like so many other students across the country, especially those at elite public and private schools, are trying to get ahead, playing a numbers game. Whether it be the number of hours you volunteer or the number of nonprofits you’ve started. In this college admissions rat race many students feel they've been left in the dust.
YR Media spoke with one of these students — 14-year-old Aier Lin, a high school sophomore from the Bay Area. Lin talked about the load she carries to try and keep up, hoping to stand out among others when it comes to college admissions trying to land a successful career one day. Especially as a first generation student, she’s trying to achieve what has yet to be done in her family.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
YR Media: How many activities have you been doing this summer and how many hours per week do you spend on these activities?
Aier Lin: I spend around 20 to 25 hours per week on activities outside of school. This summer, I took a math course which allowed me to accelerate a year of math. I’ve also been volunteering about 2 to 6 hours a week at my local library.
YR: What activities are you planning on joining this fall?
AL: This fall, I plan on taking an AP class, joining my school’s sports team, continuing to volunteer at my local library and find other opportunities and programs to join.
YR: Do you compare yourself to others?
AL: I often find myself comparing myself to others whether it’s other teens or my friends. When I see other teens or people I know participating in more difficult classes or extracurriculars, I feel as if I should be doing the same or that I’m not doing enough. It’s hard not to feel that way.
YR: How does social media play a part in the pressure you feel to succeed?
AL: With social media it’s so easy for so many kids to share so much and it’s overwhelming. With their loads of extracurriculars, and tons of hard classes, I feel stuck in the pressure. The comparisons begin, making me feel worse, and oftentimes the comparisons aren’t valid because the situations are different.
YR: Do you put extreme emphasis on the activities you do, such as hours you have, awards you need to win, extracurriculars you’re in.
AL: I'm constantly putting extreme emphasis on how much I need to succeed. I want the awards, I want the volunteer hours and I’m trying but It's difficult to not compare myself to others when they seem so much farther ahead and so much “better” in whatever they are doing. Comparison really is the thief of joy.
YR: Do you have any regrets or things you've learned since the start of high school?
AL: Since the start of high school, I’ve learned to try new things. Finding new interests, challenging yourself, whether that be academically or through your personal life, this allows you to grow as a person. Then slowly but surely you can figure out what you are most passionate about and what you might like to pursue and you can dive deep into that.
YR: What support at school would be beneficial for you?
AL: One thing I’d like to see at school that would be beneficial for me and other students would be more workshops. Inviting people in certain careers or fields and having them speak to students would inspire both me and other students. Allowing us to figure out where we might be a good fit in the world.
YR: What advice do you have for incoming high schoolers and current high schoolers who feel the same way?
AL: Some advice I’d give to incoming or current highschoolers would be to figure out who you are and what you want to do, don’t base your interests off what others are doing. I would also say not to put an immense amount of pressure on yourself, be kind to yourself but also challenge yourself and continue to discover your interests and passions.
Ayushree Dahal, (she/her) is a Bay Area based journalist.
Edited by Nykeya Woods