Summer Diaries: Sixuan Wu

If at first you don’t succeed, apply to colleges again


Photo courtesy of Lucy Liu

During the summer, I went on several college visits. This picture features me following a student guide on a campus tour at Washington and Lee University. The tight-knit community the student guide has described adds an extra appeal to this liberal arts school.

Sixuan Wu, Assistant Online Editor

It all began with the six red exclamation marks glaring down at me from my Common App dashboard, accompanied by the words “deadline has expired.”

Or maybe it all began with the registrar at the Fairfax County Public Schools student welcome center telling me that I had to redo my junior year. Or perhaps it was COVID-19 forcing an awkward immigration deadline upon us, just when I was expecting a grand finale to my high school life back in China. Regardless, after a year on hiatus, I find myself clicking open my college applications again.

For the past month, I have occupied my mornings with browsing college websites, sorting out an application timeline and brainstorming essay ideas. All these processes felt familiar (I spent my last summer doing the exact same thing, after all), yet the memories have long gone rusty and distant.

There is something strangely daunting about applying to colleges for the second time (although technically, I never submitted anything the first time), especially when I had an extra year to think about the schools I want to attend and the things I want to study. Everyone expected me to be better prepared, but right now, I’m not so sure.

Taking an extra year means I have to look at college applications from a new angle, focusing on in-state schools due to the significantly lower tuition in comparison to shooting for schools all around the country when I was applying as an international student. There is also rewriting all the essays based on new experiences, rebuilding my activity list and updating my personal information.

Oh, and don’t forget the big challenge: contacting all my teachers that I had asked for a letter of recommendation if that offer is still on the table. If you think asking for a letter of recommendation is scary, imagine asking for one first, then having to ask the teacher to hold onto it for a year and then double checking if they are still writing that letter for me a year later.

But looking back, I notice that this year’s experience has prepared me for college in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I had not moved here. I was able to back my academic history up with standardized testing and AP classes, which weren’t offered in China. I was able to go on campus tours to find the special things about a school that really called out to me. An extra year of high school also means I get to explore American culture more, so that I wouldn’t feel clueless and lonely when I enter college life.

Most importantly, I was able to anchor myself down on some of the things I’m passionate about after living in a new environment, including the value of my own culture and traditions, the struggles every generation of immigrants have faced and the power of language in connecting the world through storytelling. These things pieced together a future I want for myself—one that is slightly different from what I would have envisioned a year ago.

So as the summer of my second junior year rolled by and I started reviewing the college list I made last July, I asked myself if I really am better prepared. I am perhaps slightly more familiar with the application process than my peers, but many other things, especially those unique to the American education system, remain a mystery. Still, to say the least, I have experienced, explored and learned new things; I have overcome challenges and made progress, and when I looked through the college essay topics once again, these were the important takeaways that popped into my mind first. And with such realizations in mind, for a moment, planning for college doesn’t seem so hard anymore.