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Stress to Impress

Posted 04/30/2021 by Holden Knostman

A pencil sketch captures the stresses students face during the college application process. photo courtesy of The Trinity Voice

As the college application season for the Class of 2022 approaches, many rising seniors are undertaking the stressful process of finding the right college and building a successful application.

With the end of the 2021 school year nearing, rising seniors are beginning to worry about their futures. The clock has started ticking for these students to fill out their applications and make a decision worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Students have already begun to research and discover schools to determine where they want to apply. Unfortunately, some schools that are more selective than others frighten students, as the students wonder whether or not they have the grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and other necessary aspects to be a competitive applicant.

The stress that tags along with college is intense. Students ponder the consequences that could ensue if they do not get into their desired college, and some wonder if they have wasted their time in high school. Why work hard for good grades, study for good test scores, and put blood sweat and tears into extracurriculars just to have your application be examined briefly before it is thrown into the rejection pile? The unfortunate truth is that grades, test scores, and extracurriculars may be an indicator of what a student did in high school; however, that is not always the case.  Students in all cases struggle through difficulties in school, and depending on various scenarios, some students have more opportunities than others to reveal they are a desirable applicant.  

Let’s take grades, for example. A student at “School A” might have straight A’s, while a student at “School B” has straight B’s. When colleges look at these statistics, they automatically think that student A is smarter, worked harder, and would be a better fit at their college. What colleges may not see is the fact that student B went to a more competitive school, student B struggled with various issues, and more. Of course, the argument here is that the essays students write in their applications give them a chance to discuss the struggles that they went through. Sadly, at some colleges, GPA and test scores are weighted more heavily than essays, making the admission process deliberately favor the academically “smart” students.  

Going to an elite college is not a determinant of whether or not you will be successful in life. Your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars may be an indication that you will make a change in the world, but maybe they are not. High school for many is a game; it is not about how smart a student is. High School is about how determined students are to show their false selves to colleges to present themselves as their ideal applicants. Maybe a student does not care one bit about the 200 hours of volunteer work they did. Maybe a student hates playing soccer, but plays all four years so that it looks good for his application. Ultimately, it is important to remember that when you are opening your college letters next spring, just because you got rejected from your dream school does not make you a failure or minimize your potential for success in life.

Rising seniors David Price and Nick Neuhalfen are both more stressed than they thought they would be. Price was concerned by the fact that he will be applying to college during the COVID pandemic, which has changed the standard application process. “I am kinda stressed about applying to college, mostly because of COVID changing things so much, and the uncertainty of everything.” Neuhalfen expressed how a lot of students feel with this approaching decision, “I’d say I’m fairly stressed for applying to college because it’s been made out to seem like such a life-determining decision. It seems like if I make the wrong decision for what college I go to or what I study there’s no way I can be successful. So, I’m definitely scared of the magnitude of the decision, but I also know that pretty much everyone my age feels the exact same.” 

With COVID changing how colleges run and accept students, applicants have begun to stress over what they need to do to adapt. Almost all schools in the country are now test-optional, meaning you can submit standardized test scores, but they are not required. The UC (University of California) school system will not be using test scores to consider admission or scholarships through the year 2024, according to their website. This new adaptation of college enrollment can be a blessing to some and a burden to others. Students with good grades but lower test scores may feel relieved that test scores will not be weighted as heavily as they once were. In contrast, students who have excelling test scores but not quite a compensating GPA may have received the short end of the stick when it comes to being accepted. Ultimately, COVID, while it originally seemed to make the college admissions process a little more forgiving, now seems to make it more intimidating. To add to the stress, college acceptance rates nationwide dropped to as much as 50% lower than they were the previous year, all due to a highly increased number of applicants. This seems to make the application process more daunting than ever before.

While you may feel even more stressed after reading this article, it is important to remember that college is not a determinant of whether or not you will be happy in life. People worldwide find incredible success without a college education, or without an “elite” college education. Ultimately, Neuhalfen put it perfectly: “It’s not as big as we all think; it’s just…we’ve all been trained to be afraid…”