College applications cause stress

Imagine college application season in the United States, circa 1950s. Students apply to colleges close by, usually in their home town or state. Few feel the need to apply to more than two or three places. The process is extremely low-key and results are predictable.

Fast forward sixty years and you’ll find yourself in today’s hyper-competitive age of stressfulness, where college admission rates can stoop as to low as five percent and parents worry about which preschool will best prep their toddler for the Ivy Leagues.

For high school students, the admissions process is transforming into something like a stress-filled nightmare, and many can’t help but find themselves mourning the death of simplicity and relaxation.

Why have we spiraled into this era of cutthroat college admissions? There was something else going on back in the relaxed days of the seventies and eighties–the biggest bulge in the American population, the baby boomers, were busy having kids. And now those kids are applying to college.

Not only are more high school students graduating every year as a result, but more are deciding that they need a Bachelor’s degree in order to attain a more desirable career. Virtually all colleges have reported drastic increases in the number of applications they have been receiving. From 2010 to 2011, for example, Washington University in St. Louis saw a 15.48% increase in applications and Columbia University experienced a 32.12% rise–and this phenomenon is taking place all across the country.

Exacerbating this effect is the fact that students realize what’s going on, and decide to hedge their bets by applying to dozens of colleges. Senior Sameer Mishra says he’s applying to at least eleven schools. “I want to provide myself with a breadth of options,” he explains.

The ease of the online Common Application and the decision of more and more schools to adopt it encourage impulsive applications. When it barely takes any extra effort to click and add another school to the list, why not play it safe and apply anyway? It is easy to see how application rates are rising unstoppably–and how admissions rates are dropping to scary lows as a result. The process is fueling itself, and it isn’t likely to stop any time soon.

The end result of this vicious cycle is that stress levels of high school students are soaring to record highs. When there are so many qualified applicants, colleges have to start making decisions based on tiny details. This leaves students worrying about balancing challenging schedules, extracurricular activities, volunteering projects, leadership positions, sports teams and part-time jobs–plus squeezing in a few hours of sleep. Even students with stellar resumes are dismayed when they hear colleges reps speak of selectivity–many top schools say they reject kids with perfect GPAs and SAT scores every day.

The sheer number of qualified applicants makes this kind of arbitrary selectivity necessary, and the pressure is once again shifted onto applicants to make themselves shine in other ways. All of a sudden that less-than-perfect essay could be the deciding factor between you and another hundred amazing applicants. “I don’t necessarily think it’s the colleges that expect too much,” muses Senior Krisli Vasili, “but students that expect too much of themselves.”

Leave A Comment

Student views published on this website and in the print edition of The Scarlette do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, staff, or administration of West Lafayette High School or WLCSC.