College stress: unnecessary or unavoidable?
September 3, 2021
The college application process has faced a significant shift in recent years from an exciting time for seniors to plan their futures, to a stress-riddled high school experience plagued by worries of not being “enough.”
“I am very stressed, I started thinking about the application process at the end of junior year. The hardest part is the essay because I never know if my topic truly expresses who I am or if it is ‘unique’ enough for the colleges,” said senior Jane Ruppel.
The question remains, however, where the rise in stress is originating.
In recent years, colleges’ acceptance rates have dropped dramatically. This can be attributed to a significant rise in the number of high school graduates, but also to an inordinate increase in applications, especially to “elite” schools. It is believed this is due to the universities’ choice to waive SAT and ACT testing requirements in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some seniors are attributing their nervousness to the unknowns regarding acceptance rates this year, especially as universities have varying requirements surrounding standardized tests.
— AdmitSee (@AdmitSee) April 5, 2016
“I want to make sure everything on all my applications is done to the best of my ability so I have no regrets when I apply to schools. However, that makes me become a crazy perfectionist. Some schools not being test-optional anymore is definitely another worry to make sure the colleges get your scores,” said Claire Wong (‘22)
Other seniors feel obligated to have a perfect resume throughout high school.
“I felt a lot of self-imposed pressure, honestly, since freshman year, because I always think about how each of my grades and test scores will affect my entrance into college.” said Katia Huddleston (‘22).
In response to the mounting pressure, anxiety about college is affecting students much sooner than senior year, with students making college plans earlier and earlier.
Maggie Smith (‘23) is already thinking ahead, stating, “College is definitely already on my mind, I have begun structuring a test prep schedule and the dates I’m going to test already to make sure I am not scrambling later.”
While much of the worries plaguing students seem to be due to internalized pressure to be “perfect,” there is also a sense of competition clouding the application process within schools. Students constantly check in with their classmates’ progress, and many state feeling insecure if their resume is “inferior” to a classmate’s, a determination often calculated according to the number of Advanced Placement classes being taken.
A similar situation is prevalent online with students from all over the world posting college acceptance videos showing off their “stats” and the schools that accepted them. Students like Alana Lopez (‘22) report falling down a rabbit hole of self-doubt when watching such videos.
“I definitely love watching college acceptance videos but I do get stressed out at the same time, especially when they share how they got in and all their test scores since they were different than mine,” said Lopez, “at the same time they are helpful because they give you an idea of what kind of application the college might be looking for.”
The college counseling department, however, argues that everyone’s path is unique to them, and shouldn’t be so stressful, or corrupted by competition, but exciting.
“All college stress is unnecessary. It is all due to external pressures like rankings, ‘prestige,’ or parents’ input but that is all based on other people’s opinions,” says college counselor Jose Ramos, “students should figure out what they want and find a school that truly fits that, regardless of what is deemed ‘elite’.”