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As early as sophomore year, high school students are swept up in the chaos that is the college application process. During this process, students are expected to complete extra essays, perfect their Common Apps and school-specific applications, score well on countless (and expensive) standardized tests, and participate in numerous extracurricular activities, all while keeping up with their ever-increasing homework load. All of this responsibility mounts over time, and it is especially visible for seniors through the fall semester and into January. This process places too much stress on high school students during one of the busiest times of their lives and must be changed in order to preserve what is left of their sanity.
One of the most challenging aspects of the college application process is its highly competitive nature. According to a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education entitled “Turning the Tide,” the hyper-competitive college admissions process has caused students to disregard concern for others in favor of gaining a leg up in the process. This increasing competitiveness is a direct result of an increasing number of applicants and decreasing college admission rates. Lacey Crawford, author of Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, states that “over the last 20 years, the admissions rates for some schools have been halved or quartered.” The combination of these factors, in addition to strict deadlines and lengthy applications, have high school students across the globe and here at Collegiate feeling incredibly overwhelmed.
For many students, applying to college is a battle against the clock. With Early Decision, Early Action, Rolling Decision, and Regular Decision deadlines differing from school to school, it’s difficult for students to both complete their applications in time and keep track of due dates. This time crunch was especially visible at Collegiate the week leading up to November 1st, a popular Early Action deadline. Students and college counselors were overwhelmed trying to complete applications in time for the deadlines, and many seniors appeared to be walking around in a zombie-like state. When asked about Early Action applications, Sonja Kapadia (‘17) simply replied, “I’m just so happy to have November 1st over and done with.”
Many students also struggle with the content of college applications, whether it be essays, testing, or supplemental questions. Match staffer Gillian Laming (‘17) says the most challenging aspect of the application process is “the school-specific essays because there are so many, and most schools require them.” In addition to these types of essays, students must also write a personal statement that is sent to all of the colleges they apply to. This essay is the most challenging for Sumner Brinkley (‘17), who believes “it is a struggle to prove your entire self worth to strangers in 500 words or less.”
After recording their biographical information, crafting personal statements, and completing school-specific essays and supplemental questions, college applicants still have to perfect their test scores and GPAs. Standardized testing comes with its own set of challenges, as it is a major source of stress for college-bound students. As stated by John Hazelton (’16) in his February 2016 Match article “Admission Indecision,” standardized tests are unfair to students because they cost “over $50 a piece” and are often taken accompanied by tutoring and prep course fees, which places students from lower-income families at a disadvantage. GPAs also generate stress for college applicants, especially high school juniors. Avery Freeman (‘18) says she is “primarily focused on testing and maintaining GPAs right now,” while Liza Miller (‘18) says “junior year is the time to complete testing and maintain those grades so they won’t be an issue when it comes time to apply to colleges.” And finally, some students, like Steele Viverette (‘18), are already overwhelmed with the process because “the hardest part is just not really knowing what [they] need to do.”
Clearly, the college application process has room for improvement. The current process places too much additional stress on high school students who are already stretched to the brim with their academic and extracurricular commitments. While it is uncertain what concrete actions can be taken to improve this process, the Harvard Graduate School of Education has found three common areas that must be addressed: “Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions, and redefining achievement in ways that level the playing field.” Although these three areas seem daunting, colleges could easily improve the application process for students by reducing their reliance on standardized testing in favor of more personal methods, decreasing the number of supplemental questions on their applications, or simply offering more lenient deadlines. If colleges can improve in these three areas, the college application process will soon be transformed from a stressful and time-consuming challenge to an easier, less overwhelming, and hopefully more exciting one.