Since its movie adaptation in 2012, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower has become a must-see for all high schoolers. The talented actors and camera work can only take so much of the credit though. Teenagers resonate with the theme of the story, the mind-blowing simplicity of how to survive high school and life afterwards. The reader learns with main character Charlie that empathy, action, and honesty are the keys to success. In 213 pages, Chbosky describes the thoughtfulness of a wallflower and the perks of adopting it. As a student searching for colleges, those perks apply to you too! Here's how.
The Urban Dictionary defines a wallflower as a person “who sees everything, knows everything, but does not say a word.” Charlie perfectly embodies the definition, especially in the beginning of the book. The only person Charlie reveals his thoughts to is the mysterious “dear friend” the book is addressed to. Through his letters, readers understand Charlie’s remarkable intelligence and kindness before anyone else. His new friends see and value it too. Charlie is the kind of person who watches and listens. Being thoughtful is helpful, especially when it comes to important decisions like which college to go to or which major to declare. Just remember to act on your thoughtfulness so it comes to fruition; otherwise, like Charlie learns, your thoughtfulness is merely thoughts in your head.
Charlie observes his classmates carefully before choosing who he wants as a friend. He doesn’t develop a friendship until he says “hi.” In high school, students have to begin to “say hi” to colleges. Usually, when sophomores take the PSAT, they check off the box to receive mail from colleges. Putting your name on a college mailing list is a good place to start, but the mounds of mail you receive after can be overwhelming. If you already have a few colleges in mind, or if you are interested in a specific major, it may be better to contact schools individually. Most colleges have a “request information” or “contact us” link on their web page.
If the college is close by or you feel like a road trip, visiting the college can be even more helpful. It gives you firsthand experience of the environment and allows you to observe before you participate as a student. Check with counselors at your high school for campus visit help too. Colleges often visit schools or set up college fairs nearby. By taking initiative (saying “hi), you can focus on the colleges that really matter to you. No one can filter your college mail better than you. If, however, you don’t know how to begin the filtration process, obey Sam’s advice to Charlie: be honest.
Related: Making Powerful Connections at Your Colleges of Interest
Be true to yourself
At the end of the book, character Sam explains to Charlie why he struggles to make and keep relationships. She says he is overly concerned about pleasing other people, even if it goes against what he feels comfortable with. Although kindness comes from putting others first, ignoring your gut feelings might lead to hurting others. In Charlie’s case, he hurt his friend, Mary-Elizabeth, when he dated her without liking her. Disregarding his unhappiness only led him to hurt her later and left him friendless for months.
With college, you definitely need to be true to yourself and respect your own wants and needs. Otherwise, you might make yourself miserable. College is where you spend most of your time as a student and determines a large part of your future. It is not helpful to go to a college you feel uncomfortable with. Be honest about what you are looking for. If you enjoy a small-town feel, you might not want to go to a college in a big city. If you like the city but live far away, you have to consider the experience and expense of dorms. For example, my cousin went to an out-of-state college; she has to work hard to support herself, but she loves her school. At the same time, a friend of mine knew beginning college without her family’s support would be too stressful, so she chose a local college. Both are happy with their decisions because they fit them. Finding the right fit is all about understanding what you are and aren't comfortable with.
The transition is hard, but that’s okay
Charlie struggles to know how to act and what decisions to make. He knows he should do something with his life but doesn't know what. Many high schoolers feel just as lost and clueless at what seems like the absolute worst time to be lost and clueless. They try to think things through but can't find an answer. They try to take action but they seem to make too many mistakes. They try to be honest but it seems to get them nowhere. It can feel as though everything is “crashing in.” “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now,” Charlie writes after Sam leaves for college, and the depression that mounts subtly throughout the letters bubbles over. The next letter Charlie writes from the hospital, where he was admitted after his parents found him unresponsive in the living room. By speaking with a counselor, Charlie finds closure from his dark past, and he realizes life involves cluelessness, mistakes, and stagnancy. But that’s okay, because it also involves knowledge, achievements, and growth. Transitioning from childhood to adulthood is one world breaking down to form a new one, like a chick destroys the egg to become a hen. Charlie learns that life continues. And so will you. The sun that burns your skin is the same sun that lights up your day. Struggles do not mean your life is over. It means it is happening.
Related: How to Transition From High School to College
“Things are good with me,” Charlie concludes in his letters. “And even when they’re not, they will be soon enough” (213). Transitions are brutal, but they are movement. You might not feel prepared enough for college, or you might feel like you can’t get there soon enough. Finding yourself doesn’t mean finding all the answers. It means thinking about your options, choosing the best one, and standing by your choice. Real wallflowers are bright garden flowers that, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, are “persistent” and “enduring.” When searching for colleges, it's important to have thoughtfulness and strength—the true perks of being a wallflower.
For more tips on the college search, explore the articles and advice in our College Admission section.