Leah Kashar

Student

Location: Scarsdale, New York

"That's when I realized: I am not my SAT score."

When you're a junior in high school, three little letters quickly become larger than life: SAT.

At the start of my junior year, I realized that the environment was more cutthroat than I had ever thought it could be. Surprisingly, this pressure didn't come from adults. It came from the other high schoolers. Everyone in my grade had college on the brain. To get into the college of our choice, we all believed, we had to outcompete and outscore and outstudy everyone else. And get less sleep. Because time sleeping was time you didn't spend studying for the SAT.

I let myself get swept up in the pressure. My new motto was, if I wasn't in every single Honor's Level class, I wasn't doing enough. I was irritable, I couldn't focus, I stopped talking to my friends, or to my mom, and I couldn't figure out who I was. I leaned back from my support networks, and I didn't have the confidence to know that my own passions and unique skills were what would make me stand out to colleges.

That's when I realized: I am not my SAT score. Trying to conform to what I thought colleges wanted was masking who I really am. I decided to lean in to my strengths -- and away from the crazy pressure I was putting on myself.

Instead of forcing myself into higher levels of math, I took on an extra history class. Instead of forcing myself to do extracurriculars that I hated, I cut back and focused on the ones I loved. I learned how to love what I was doing and not what I thought I was supposed to do. I learned to shine as an individual, not a faceless member of the crowd. And I found that not only was this better for my happiness, it made me more effective and efficient when I studied.

To me, individuality means having the confidence to decide who I am and who I want to be, and a number on a page is never going to change that. I am more sure of myself, and more ready to apply for college, than ever.