by Katie Zhao, ’19

I was scrolling through the latest tales of drama and misfortune on College Confidential, like any normal person would, when I stumbled upon my doppelgänger.

She was me, but perfect. Sky-high GPA, editor-in-chief of her school newsmagazine, art prodigy, 200+ hours of wrangling cats, 6 APs in her senior year, and of course, she boasted 10/10 essays and teacher recommendations. And she was applying for the same schools and majors as me.

Who was this intimidating mystery girl? Sure as hell not me. Last time I checked, I certainly wasn’t the editor-in-chief of Arlingtonian.

It took a few minutes to figure out she was me. Or, at least, the sparkly College Confidential version of me, created by someone else.

On a site populated by dizzying lists of statistics and brag sheets, what role does the truth play? Are there actually kids who play two varsity sports, single-handedly stabilize a small war-torn country, teach iguanas how to play the kazoo, win national debate awards and simultaneously maintain a 4.5 GPA?

It’s ironic that it took a meeting with my fictional self to realize the full extent to which the truth can be stretched, especially online. For some reason, I’d treated the website’s posts as holy texts of some sort—as sources of guidance and truth—despite many warnings I’d seen against this.

Before application season, I’d pan through pages of students’ statistics, extracurriculars and essay ratings, hoping to find some magical formula of acceptance or approval. I’d felt so small and hopeless watching pages upon pages of amazing applicants flip past me. What chance did I stand compared to them?

While I ended up fine (and eventually kicked my College Confidential habit), I’ve realized that I can’t stop comparing myself to others. My alter ego was everything I’d desired and more, and peering into her life unleashed a wave of regret. She was confident and knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life, just like everyone else around her (and unlike me). Maybe in an alternate universe where I studied harder and clutched every opportunity, I was her. But no.

What was this lie even about, packaged into its neat little fake self? Self-fulfillment? A pressure to keep up with other users? I can’t say I know why quite yet, and maybe it’ll take a while to understand. As of now, I’m only certain that the Katie I’d rather be is the real one.