PHOTO BY Unsplash

The College Admission Dilemma: Are Students Truly Happy with Their Decisions?

Student Life

February 02, 2022

Whether parents are pushing for certain schools, whether you have complete freedom over your school choice or whether you have to meet in the middle, college applications are stressful.

The reason teens are applying to so many schools is because, nowadays, especially with Covid pushing for schools to be test optional, acceptances are unpredictable. No one knows where they are going to end up, so students want options. Colleges are facing an all-time high in applicants, because test scores do not have to be submitted, opening new doors to those who are good students, but not good test takers.

Acceptances are at an all-time low, and our generation is flipping out. Everything is so unprecedented; not even our college counselors can figure out what schools we can get into!

Inside the admissions process

Colleges think they are the only institutions in the world. That is, every college acts like every applicant is only applying to their school and is only interested in their school. Yet, this is evidently not the case, as the average American high school student will apply to some 8-12 colleges (Collegevine).

These are the four types of categories a student will use while applying to colleges:

  1. Super Reaches: Dream schools, or schools that the student will most likely not be accepted into either due to their stats and/or the school’s selectivity.

  2. Reaches: Schools that you may have a shot at, but it’s a long shot. Your stats may be either right at the school standards or right below them, but the school might be paying attention to other, more holistic, or intangible metrics, so they may deny you.

  3. Target Schools: Schools you should have a good chance to be accepted into. You are at or exceed their expectations and have a good shot at attending school.

  4. Safety Schools: These are schools you assume you will 100% get into. These are your last choices; your fallback options. Safeties are generally not hard to get into and the student applying will usually exceed the expectations of that school.

And this is only if you have the wealth and opportunities to apply to so many schools. It costs about 75-80 dollars for an application, which many families cannot afford. Of course, the Common App will provide fee waivers for these families, but they have to fall under a certain income mark.

But there are still many families who are just above the mark who still cannot afford to make multiple applications, and many are left without fee waivers. So, therefore, many teens end up applying to only a couple of schools they are certain of getting into. And if they don’t get in, they might not even get to attend college.

And when I say "every college acts like they are the only institution in the world," this is what I mean.

the burden of applications

In early October, I hoped to apply to the University of Chicago. I put this school on my list, hopeful I would be accepted. When I opened up the application in mid-October, I was flabbergasted. On top of the standard 1-2 200-300 word supplements each respective school requires, they wanted the applicant to submit a full-blown extended essay. And I’m not talking about submitting a previous essay you may have worked on in school or such, but rather writing one tailored to their ridiculous questions such as “Imagine the moon was a ball of cheese” (yes, this is a real question asked on the application, you can look at their website!)

When I looked at UChicago’s application, I had already submitted one of my applications and was working to submit three more in the next couple of weeks, so I knew the kind of work this would require, and just simply was too burnt out to do it.

Supplements are supposed to be basic questions. Of course, for early decision and early application schools, I can understand why the questions would be specifically tailored to the school, because the student must present some sort of interest if they are applying early. But otherwise, it is much easier for students if the supplemental questions are not tailored to the specific school, so that students don’t have to be compelled to rewrite essays for each school; but rather tweak.

And let’s not forget that all this is on top of the 650 words common app essay you must submit, your activity lists and descriptions, and resume, along with the other supplements almost every school requires. And the more selective the school, the more likely you will have to put more work into your application.

But the worst part of this whole process is the excessive self-inflicted stress that comes along with it. Aside from all these other things you have to worry about, many kids have families on their backs pressuring them to apply to specific schools that they may not even want to attend. Often, kids are regarded as “lazy” by their families, and parents don’t think their child is doing enough due to the schools they want to attend.

But this is not the case. Not every child is fit for a top ten or a top twenty school, and different kids have different wants and needs than their parents.

The competition is hot

The good thing about having a family that pushes you is that you are forced to excel. My mother was always hands-on, and all my potential would have gone to waste if not for her. When high school started, I was motivated and pushed myself.

But once I got accustomed to the “covid life”, I fell into a slump around mid my junior year. However, my mom was very involved in making sure I still had the opportunity to apply to great schools and made sure I kept my grades up and worked hard. But at the same time, I was constantly left feeling like I was not enough; not good enough.

It made me feel like I was not living up to standards in my academic success and in my extracurriculars. I was always told I wasn’t working hard enough- and there was something more I could do- even though I was on my last leg.

So, in some ways, it’s good to have parents and families who are hands-on in the process. Because at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have wanted to go through the college process alone. But at the same, it can be quite overwhelming and stressful on top of everything else teenagers are doing to get ahead and get into a good school.

Sometimes, it feels like it’s not even about what the teen wants, but rather, what their parents want for them. The pressure can be overwhelming and tough, especially since, on top of that, applicants have to show how unique they are in order to stand out in college applications. For example, my mom tells me every day that colleges no longer just want “cookie-cutter” kids with perfect grades.

They want someone unique on top of that. Unless you start your own club or non-profit organization and cure cancer at the same time, it feels like you are destined for poor-level (second choice) education and basic failure in life. It sucks, but it's not the end of the world and, honestly, this is not what reality is.

Take Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel, Annie Leibowitz, George Lucas, and Elizabeth Warren. They either did not have a college education or went to small schools that were not highly ranked, but it did not preclude them from achieving their dreams and even changing the world.

I think one of the things teenagers struggle the most with is reaching out for help. Since we cannot change the system overnight and you still have to go through this tedious process, as I am going through now, this is my piece of advice to you. If you feel as if you’re drowning in the world of college applications, go talk to someone.

Make your own support system. If your parents are pushing too hard, talk to your friend or college counselor. Or if you feel completely abandoned in the process, try setting up a meeting with your parents and college counselor.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t look at the big picture of all the schools you have to apply to, make a list and take it step by step. Breathe.

Because at the end of the day, regardless of the pressure being put on you, it is only because everyone wants to see you succeed. And remember: the school name or no name DOES NOT define you!

Jacqueline Belkin
5,000+ pageviews

Writer since Feb, 2021 · 6 published articles

Jackie Belkin is a highschool senior from New Jersey. She was awarded a 2021-2022 internship with The Writing College at The Women’s Writing Institute. Her intrests include political science, theatre, writing, hanging out with friends and journalism. Outside of Teen Magazine, she also helps run Local Kids Care- a Covid-relief charity based in Central Jersey.