Does the College Application Process Have to Be Stressful?

College. What an emotionally charged, stress-inducing, mentally stimulating, and adrenaline-boosting word for any senior– especially for a senior in the famous Fall of Senior Year.

But the idea of college doesn’t have to provoke everything from dread to anxiety. “When you think of small specific tasks one at a time it feels very manageable,” said Issie Russo ‘21, “but as soon as you slip and think about not just what you’re trying to accomplish in that one time period but how you just need to do your college applications in general, it gets very stressful.”

So why do seniors see applying to college as such a stressful experience? It turns out that we might just think the stakes are higher than they are. “It’s probably the biggest decision we’ve ever made at this point because we’re kids, we haven’t really done anything that has massively affected our lives,” said Lucy Stefani ‘21. When she talks to adults in her family, Lucy describes college, saying, “‘Well, you know, it’s one of the biggest decisions I’ll ever make.’” Adults usually respond, “‘it’s definitely not.’” As teenagers, adults have planned much of our lives thus far and what we have chosen has caused limited consequences. 

College, on the other hand, appears to depend largely on our own accomplishments and decisions. “It’s easy for us to translate the college process into ‘wherever I go, that’s who I’m going to be,’” said Maevis Fahey ‘21. This ideology blocks our productivity. We aren’t going to want to type a single word of one essay if we think that each syllable determines our life-long identity.

Catherine Bettinelli ‘21 offered some wisdom she received from her dad: “You only need to be there for a year. And if you hate it, you can transfer.’” “There are so many things in your life that will have more of an impact on you than what school you go to for four years,” said Lucy. Let’s remind ourselves, ladies, that when we discuss college, we’re talking about one to five years of our lives.

My classmates, if they’ve made it this far in the article, might be thinking, Anna, how can you dismiss the life-changing significance of our acceptance or rejection from a college by saying that it’s only four years?! Those four years will affect everything that comes after them! To which I respond with a story, courtesy of Lucy Stefani.

Lucy’s mom, according to Lucy, was a star college applicant. She applied to a plethora of schools. She spent hours on her applications. She flew to Ohio to take the SAT. She’d already taken it, but Massachusetts wasn’t offering any more tests before she applied and she wanted to improve her scores. Lucy says her dad’s approach, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more laid-back. She said his path “was totally a different experience, and” — wait for it —“they ended up at the same school.” I know, fellow seniors. Shocking. “It just worked out and they took vastly different paths to get there,” said Lucy. “That’s the story I always have to remind myself.” Even all her mother’s research couldn’t have led her to know she would meet her future husband at college.

Nevertheless, seniors, we know we’ve got to work at those applications and AP classes. Maybe, though, we’re looking at it the wrong way. Catherine said, “The college process doesn’t need to be stressful; it can be enjoyable.” Of course I asked her what in the world she could mean by putting “college process” and “enjoyable” in the same sentence, and she said: “I love creative writing, so I’ve been really enjoying writing the college essay because I’m taking a creative approach to it.” She also said that she enjoys “talking to people and asking them about college.”

And it’s true. This process can be enjoyable because at its heart, our journey to a particular school is really about us pursuing what we love. This means that the process is highly individual. Issie said, “I’ll be sitting during a study hall and I’ll see someone next to me emailing a college rep or working on a supplemental essay.” She said this can cause stress. She reminds herself: “We’re all on a different track; none of us are in the exact same position. Just because you see someone else working doesn’t mean you have to be working too.” She added: “Having some sort of end goal that’s personal for yourself is really important.”

If we don’t want to have stress pains by January, we need to focus on, as Issie suggested, an “end goal that’s personal.” But ultimately, we have to keep an eye on what we prioritize. “Wherever I head I’m still going to have the opportunities to be a good person,” said Maevis, reframing the importance we place on college acceptance. “It’s our last year together. The here and now is so important,” said Catherine Betinelli. “The stress of something is always going to be there. The future is in the future, but the present is now and we’ve got to hold on to it.” Or, as Maevis succinctly stated, “Focusing on the future is just pressure.”

Good luck, fellow seniors, on embarking on the journey of discovering who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.

Just kidding. You can be your best self anywhere.

Image: Mrs. Russo

Anna Sheehan ’21