Pressured to Get into the ‘Right’ College

The college application process can be emotionally taxing and hard on students. It was for me.

I’ll be the first to admit that college applications brought out the worst in me in multiple ways. The combination of not knowing what the future held and knowing for a fact that these essays would make or break my goals was enough to send me spiraling.

I’d assume the same could be said for many of my peers and other seniors around the world: the pressure that came with selective admissions fostered an intense atmosphere of competition that I found myself giving in to. 

Throughout the process of typing and editing and retyping essays, a recurring and unwelcome need to compare myself to others cracked my mental defenses. I dreaded the little snippets of conversation about college that pervaded everyday life.

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It also felt like every waking moment was dedicated to polishing essays and looking up schools on U.S. News Best Colleges rankings. 

The college application process placed a large mental toll on me, which I’m sure many fellow seniors can relate to. A lot of the stress may have come from the pressure I placed on myself, but the atmosphere of college application season perpetrated this pressure. 

There is a long-standing idea that the most important part of your high school career is during the summer before your senior year. The summer when you attempt to write thousands of words without developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Parents, peers, and the person in the mirror may build up this idea by talking about top-rated colleges or financial plans. It all adds up to the thought that these applications are “make or break.” 

Unfortunately, I succumbed to this pressure and convinced myself that attending a highly ranked college was the only option I had.

While much of this thinking can be attributed to my own misleading thoughts, it was also perpetrated by many around me. While I understand that no one has bad intentions when it comes to encouraging students to shoot for the stars, it can be a little overwhelming. 

I placed a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that I wasn’t wasting the opportunity that my parents gave me through uprooting their lives in China to raise me and my brother in the U.S. ”

My parents often brought up college rankings at the dinner table. To their credit, they did try to reinforce that they would be proud of me no matter where I went after high school, but it was hard to ignore the almost constant college discussion. 

Additionally, I placed a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that I wasn’t wasting the opportunity that my parents gave me through uprooting their lives in China to raise me and my brother in the U.S. 

Like my parents, I can guarantee that my peers never had bad intentions when they talked about what colleges they were applying to, but it still got under my skin. Because of my peers, I ended up applying to more reach schools than I initially planned to. These reach schools later became a large source of stress and anxiety for me.

A variety of factors and the college application culture, in general, all contributed to the pressure I felt this year. A lot of it was also due to my own thinking and being way too hard on myself.

I hope that others in my grade can remember that no matter what their plans for the next four years are, they can accomplish more than what a college ranking website says they can.

I had to give my hardest effort to be proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished in the past few years. So, maybe one thing the college application process helps with is forcing us to recognize and be proud of our own accomplishments.