The Futile Pressure of Building a Good CV in School

I was welcomed into the world of resumes when I was in Class 4. My friend was wailing about how badly she had done in a Math test. When I pointed out that it was just one silly and meaningless test, she refused to be comforted.

“All the colleges will see my bad marks,” she groaned. “I will never get into the best colleges.”

I think it was then that I realised that everything around me had become a battle for a single victory.

Conduct a Swimathon, top a physics exam, finish your piano Grade 8 Trinity, and participate in interstate level football, and maybe you will win. Spend time doing things you love, like reading and sleeping on weekends, and you might as well give up altogether.

What exactly is this victory that everyone is working so hard to achieve?

Going to a good university, of course – preferably an Ivy League one in the US or, at very least, in Canada or the UK or Australia.

Or does the victory mean that you have to become a kind of student who gets into the college of his or her dreams. What kind is that?

There are many theories.

Apparently, you need to be either “pointy” or “well-rounded”. Being pointy means that you are exceptionally brilliant in one particular field – Wimbledon-winning-level brilliant. Being well-rounded means that you are good at many, many different things.

Obviously, as most of us cannot become geniuses overnight, we opt to go for the multi-talented route.

Now, I’m in Class 8.

I see my seniors start NGOs as easily as they would bake a cake. Fund-raising concerts for the welfare of people and animals take place at least once a month. The minute students reach Class 9, they turn into socially-aware Greta Thunberg wannabes.

Maybe they really care, but it’s hard not to feel suspicious about the just-in-time-for-my-resume factor. In fact, while reading an article about the 10 reasons why someone should join an NGO, I noticed that having a good CV came third on the list, beating ‘cultural understanding’ (number 9) and ‘making life better’ (number 10) by a large margin.

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The CV pressure overflows into the summer holidays, too.

Suddenly, it has become necessary to sign up for fancy film-making classes and peace-making camps. Everyone is talking about the curriculum of the Stanford summer camp versus the curriculum of the Oxford summer camp.

Personally, I would rather spend my vacation wandering around Istanbul licking a dondurma, but the fear of having an empty resume – shudder – compels me to head to one of these summer camps. Equally, I feel that reading a book about World War II could teach you just as much as a summer school on history, but that’s hardly the stuff that makes you look impressive.

Nobody says it, but everybody knows it.

From ballet to badminton, from cello to chess – the more hobbies you have, the higher are your chances of getting into that prestigious university. Whenever an email comes from school encouraging me to sign up for a Model United Nations (MUN) debate or a Snapchat workshop, I feel pressured.

In my school, there is an ‘all-rounder award’, and I wonder how they choose the winner each year since everybody is involved in so many activities.

Books have been written about how resume-building has turned students into a bunch of zombie-like toppers and tennis players, Math Olympiad gold medalists and MUNners – with no creativity or individuality whatsoever.

About how almost everything we do has been done just to put it into our admission essays.

“From learning to commodify your experiences for the application, the next step has been to seek out experiences in order to have them to commodify. The New York Times reports that there is now a thriving sector devoted to producing essay-ready summers,” writes William Deresiewicz in a piece titled “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” that appeared in The New Republic.

And Deresiewicz should know. He was on the faculty at Yale, and was briefly in the admissions committee there.

It’s not a surprise that students have started going to career guidance counsellors in swarms.

These advisors promise a range of services – from “profile building” to “undergraduate admissions abroad”.

It’s almost as if there is a perfect CV formula, and those who crack it go far in life.

“As soon as your Class 7 exams are over, begin exploring the options of pursuing the Undergrad degree overseas. This head start will enable you to build a superb resume and plan the application process well in advance,” states the website of one of the city’s most famous consultants.

I realise that I’m already late in this frantic race. Which is not a happy thought at all.

Naima Ramakrishnan is a 13-year-old living in Mumbai.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty