Eighteen-year old Jane Tran (not her real name to protect her family’s privacy) initially created her first YouTube video – Actual College Application Advice – as a parody of college admissions mania. “I feel the value we as a society place on admission to perceived top tier schools is absurd and unnecessary,” said Tran, when contacted. “As a senior, it was as if I wasn’t in high school any more, because I was constantly bombarded with questions about my college plans.”
The pressure “took a mental and physical toll” on her, said Tran. “I caught the flu twice – once before early action decisions came out and the next time in the midst of interviews.” Tran said she and her classmates “came to the conclusion that everyone has at least one breakdown due to college anxiety–almost like a rite of passage before graduating…. I think we all felt doomed because the college admissions process is portrayed as a game you have to play.”
In her videos, Tran calls the process “grueling and traumatic,” largely due to her parents’ interference, but also due to what she calls “an arbitrary and dehumanizing” admissions process; making the videos was her way of making sense of her experience.
Tran said she didn’t really expect anyone to take her first video seriously. She named herself notprincesston and pronounced herself an expert who “could give actual college admission advice” since she was “not yet an adult.” (Note: Tran turned 18 in July.) But after dozens of anxious teens began writing to her with questions, she decided to record her own series of college application videos.
“Students who email me say that… other hubs of supposed college advice made them feel very insecure about themselves,” said Tran. “With my YouTube channel I try to offer alternative advice… (and) encourage students to present their authentic voice in an unapologetic manner.”
Some of Tran’s videos chronicle her general admission process experiences: The Most Absurd Lines from My College Essays, How to Get into College Without Really Trying, and College Application FAQ & Misconceptions. She promises that she is currently working on College Interview Stories, which will be coming soon.
Other videos share specific details from her own (or her friend’s) applications to specific schools: How to Actually Get into Duke, How to Actually Get into UC Berkeley, How to Actually Get into CalTech, How to Actually Get into Brown and How to Actually Get into Princeton.
While it’s important to remember that Tran’s advice is solely representative of her own experiences, her pointers principally encourage teens to lower the flame under any college admission concerns that may be making them question their top interests, their academic aptitude, or especially, their self-worth.
“I personally didn’t have any extraordinary awards,” Tran confides to her viewers. She says she proudly listed the school-based awards she received because they “showed her character.” She tells applicants to list even honors or awards that seem unimportant, “because it humanizes you.”
Tran also tells students to “do activities that you enjoy” in high school rather than worry about what will look good on college applications. “I ended up focusing my college app on seemingly trivial activities – like Knitting Club,” she says. “It’s not about what extracurricular activities you do, but how you present them.”
In the spirit of a helpful big sister, Tran advocates, “just try in high school.” She also gives a brief overview of SAT and ACT tests, assuring students that “you can get better at them.” Furthermore, she states, “you should never associate yourself with colleges or people who can’t accept you for who you are – they don’t deserve you.”
Tran, a planned social sciences major, also says “we need to destigmatize” the liberal arts. “If you’re not a fan of biology or physics, it’s okay to not take AP Bio or AP Physics.” She adds, “I certainly didn’t… and it’s the best decision I made throughout high school.” Tran also tell students, “please don’t feel pressure to take certain classes just for the sake of college. And please don’t feel pressured to get a Bachelor of Science degree just because it’s supposedly more practical (than a Bachelor of Arts) – that’s just b.s.” With that comment, she highlights a large tote bag behind her labeled Random Crap.
Tran’s quirky sense of humor imbues all of her videos. She remarks, for example, that she put colleges on her shortlist based on how passionate she was about their… food. The hot cookie bar kept Northwestern on her list and $1 milkshake Wednesdays is why she says she included the University of Chicago. “The almond croissants,” says Tran, “are reason enough to go to Brown.”
And although Tran also uses humor to convey that she is still recovering from application stress –
her white tee proclaims: “Don’t Happy, Be Worry” and a college pennant hangs on the wall behind her emblazoned “Nowhere” – it’s clear this is a young woman who is definitely going “Somewhere.” Tran, in fact, will be a freshman at Princeton this fall.