Teen Life: Figuring out the university application process

Anxiety about having to leave mummy and daddy is, for many teenagers, overridden by the convoluted university application process.

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My class has been in for an unpleasant shock this year. Our teenage years are flying by without us realising it; some of us are already legally adults at the venerable age of 18, and it is time for us to apply to university. A scared, excited anticipation of the strange hurdles university life will toss up is palpable.

Teenagers are fond of proclaiming often and loudly that no one loves us or cares about us, or else we would have been allowed to go to that party like everyone else on the planet. Of course, most of us are spoilt, cosseted little whiners who expect everything to be handed to us on a silver platter by a white-gloved waiter, especially here in Dubai. The rigours of university or a job seem miles away and we have so far viewed the real world only through our rose-tinted Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses.

Right now, however, anxiety about having to leave mummy and daddy soon is being overridden by the convoluted university application process. Gone are the happy days where getting in simply meant being good at the subjects you were planning to study.

As competition for every coveted place becomes fiercer, applicants are offering increasingly stellar school grades and jaw-dropping performances in entrance exams. The parameters have widened. Do you sound empathetic, decisive and astute? Have you taken on leadership roles in global warming summits, or fundraised with the hope of saving the endangered Natterjack toad? Have you aced every history test you've ever taken, starred as the prima ballerina in a production of Giselle and become captain of the national tiddlywinks team? And what do you do to relax? "Sleep" and "text" are definitely not the right answers. Instead, "Savouring the magic of Mendelssohn as my fingers trip lithely over the cello" might work. It's pleasing that years of seemingly pointless extracurriculars were not in vain. Now is the time to compile your credentials and thank your mother for making you join the girl guides 10 years ago so you can illustrate your teamwork skills.

Picking colleges to apply to isn't a matter of printing off a list, closing your eyes and randomly jabbing the paper with a pencil either, as tempting as that sounds. "The fair" once denoted stalls full of sweets, coconut hoops and old-world charm. College fairs, though, are treacherous places to navigate. As soon as you walk in, 50 different representatives try to convince you why their institutions are your dream choice - even if they don't teach the degree you want to study. Before long, you are drowning in a multicoloured sea of pamphlets and souvenir pens.

Reading up on courses, qualifications accepted and admissions statistics has turned us into bleary-eyed walking encyclopaedias and instilled in our careworn hearts a lifelong dread of the word "prospectus". At least we're all in this together and can enjoy the discovery process with our friends. We don't know what the future holds, but the application process is nevertheless a glorious chance to describe in exquisite detail just how wonderful we think we are.

Finally, our hearts go out to Malala, who courageously stood up for a right to education that we take for granted; here's hoping she gets well soon.

The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai.