College Applications: The Stress of Applying to College

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How can high school students deal with the stress of college applications? Juliet Brooks, a high school senior, gives her account of how to manage anxiety surrounding college admissions.

By Juliet Brooks
StudentAdvisor.com Contributor

Most people suffering from nostalgia (like Owen Wilson’s character in the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris”) want to go to a different time period for something it has. In the film, Wilson’s character wants to live in the 1920s because it has Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a very attractive flapper girl (I’ll stop there so I don’t spoil the movie).

Over the past year, from about mid-December of 2011 to early December of 2012, I wanted to live in a different time period for something it didn’t have: Namely, college.

“Well, that’s odd,” you’re saying—and you’re right. I am unequivocally grateful for the opportunities that I have, and in the clarity of thought that comes with distance, I know that if I had lived in another time period in which women weren’t allowed to go to college, I would have tried to go anyway. But last year, as I experienced the terrible anxiety, stress and worry that comes with college applications, all I wanted was to live in a fantasy world where the only agonies were life, love, and perhaps dangerous creatures trying to kill me.

You see, the agony of college admissions is very different from the agony of my daily life. Ideally in our lives we shape our own paths,our talents determine our abilities and our reason and rationality merits reward. However, in college admissions, there is an entirely different set of rules that absolutely nobody can decipher and and likely no one ever will.

To me it feels like the rules of college acceptance are governed by mythical all-seeing creatures (akin to the Fates in Greek mythology). These College Admissions Officers (for thusly are they called) hold our fates in their hands, and with discerning eye and opaque methodology, they accept or reject our college applications as they see fit.

Obviously, it’s not so melodramatic as all that. If college admissions officers believe that you won’t fit at their school, they are probably right. But, the stress that comes with college applications cannot be alleviated. I know; I applied. People would say to me, “If you don’t get in, then it’s just not meant to be.” Or, “There’s no reason to stress anymore; you’ve already sent the college applications in.” At which point I would retreat to my room, open the Word document that I’d submitted, and pore over it for hours in absolute desolation. How could my colleges not see that glaring grammatical error? I’d used “who” instead of “whom!” God forbid.

Actually, at this point in time the Americanized version of the English language has pretty much rendered “whom” obsolete in colloquial conversation, so it proved to be a non-issue, but I digress.

Anyway, the moral of my story is that all the kids in my grade stressed over college applications as they have for generations. But, once you’ve applied, you realize that the college applications process is a rite of passage, not a determination of eternal fate.

And guess what?

After all that stress, after all the commiserating and the debating, on the night we received our acceptances or rejections or deferrals, none of it mattered. It did not matter that we had huddled in conversations at least twice a week, asking each other about first choices and scholarships and where we were on our college applications. The college admissions officers had not seen us sobbing or laughing or shaking with fear as we passed the months between submission and response. All they saw were our portfolios, carefully pressed, pondered, and finally submitted with a trembling click of the mouse.

The kids who were accepted were accepted and the kids who were rejected were rejected.

Is that really a great moral? No, probably not. It’s not uplifting or hopeful or particularly comforting. But it holds its own cold comfort, in a way. What happens just happens. You have no control over your fate – something that drove me insane while I was waiting for a response. So if there is some advice I could give to you upcoming high school seniors, please don’t stress over your applications.

No matter how many people tell you it will all work out, I know you will still stress over your college applications. I did, and my friends did. But I encourage you to remember that it’s not your entire future. I understand the fatalistic mentality that some of you may have—I had that mentality. And I got lucky; I got into the school of my dreams. But a lot of my friends didn’t get in where they wanted to go. Was it devastating? Yes. It was devastating, but the human mind has an incredible capacity for adaptation and regeneration. And today my friends are all doing okay.

Unfortunately for many of us, stress is an inherent part of the applications process, but when it’s all over, you hopefully will embrace where you have been accepted. Ultimately, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to apply for college. As often as I might have told myself otherwise, I would have been miserable in the nineteen-twenties even if I got to hang out with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the flappers.


juliet-brooks Juliet Brooks is a high school senior from New Jersey. She is attending Columbia University in the fall. 

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