Crunch time for college applications

Jake Glover

It’s a big decision.

Teenagers across the country are preparing for one of the biggest choices of their lives: where they’ll go to college.

Not only will students have to decide where they want to spend the next four years of their lives, but many will also have to consider what they want to study– a decision that can determine what career they will follow once they graduate.

But even harder than deciding where to go is actually getting in.

Within the last 15 years, the number of applications has been on a steady increase for over three-quarters of colleges in America. Not only are a greater number of students applying, but with colleges adopting the Common Application or a more user-friendly online application, students are finding it easier to apply to many different schools.

But with an increase in applications, acceptance rates are decreasing. Last year, Stanford University saw an unprecedented 4.8 percent acceptance rate. Lower and lower acceptance rates are commonplace among the nation’s top schools.

With the ever-increasing competitiveness of the college admissions process, how stressful is this process becoming for seniors?

Students have no control over their application once it is submitted. The decision is in the hands of admissions counselors. And this lack of control can be very stressful for some seniors.

Some students focus on one specific school they feel they must attend. Some are far less concerned about where they end up, but more worried about the cost. Some are confident and content about the process.

Last year about 95 percent of the HHS Senior Class went to some form of college. If going to college is the norm at this competitive public high school, how do the seniors feel about the process?

“I’m pretty worried. I may or may not have cried in my car last night after realizing how much work I still have to do.” senior John Thornton said. “This process can be difficult, especially students who put a lot of weight on getting into certain, often times very selective, schools.”

Thornton intends on pursuing an education at New York University, which accepts less than a third of its applicants. But not every student feels the same way.

“To be honest I’m not that worried.” senior Katie Walters said. “I have two older brothers that have been through the process and I’ve gotten a lot of advice from my guidance counselor and my brothers. I feel like I should be more worried, but I’m not.”

Every student’s experience is different. However it is common for students to be very stressed about the process.

“Most of my friends are very very nervous about it, and they don’t even want to talk about it,” Walters said, “I love to talk about it because I am excited about the process and pretty far along in the process. My friends are terrified of the subject.”

Luckily, students have a strong guidance department at their disposal.  

The process can certainly be stressful for students,” guidance counselor Patrick O’Brien said.

“I find when kids start comparing themselves to their friends and others, that can make it very stressful. As far as getting everything done on time, I like to think the guidance department does a good job and we have a lot of resources for students so I think we can help limit the stress of the process. But not every school has that.”

Guidance counselors are the main resource students have for the process, offering guidance, helping submit application materials, and writing letters of recommendation that play a heavy role in a college’s decision.

However, not every school operates in the same way.

“I worked at Canton High School, and the sort of culture or norm of the school is that kids apply regular decision, and that gives students more time to get stuff done, so there’s less of a crunch factor.” O’Brien said.

“With applications as early as Oct 15 coming into senior year, people really have to be on the ball to get stuff done. When kids feel the pressure to get something done for an early deadline, that’s when it gets really stressful. Here we have a lot of kids that like to apply early.”

As a high school where many students are applying to some of the most competitive colleges in the nation, Hopkinton students certainly carry a level of stress not only during the application process, but throughout high school, in order to maintain a competitive GPA and high test scores. But how exactly does this prolonged stress affect teenagers?

“Stress causes an increase level of the hormone cortisol in the body, and chronic stress can have damaging effects on the body and brain if there are high levels for a long period of time,” said Jennifer Griffey, an Advanced Placement Psychology teacher. “Stress can lead to both psychological and physiological issues. It can cause the suppression of your body’s immune system, which would then make you more likely to get sick, and it’s also been linked to depression, anxiety, and issues sleeping.”

Too much stress can actually limit students’ productivity and deteriorate physical and mental health. As the college admissions process becomes more and more stressful and competitive, teenagers could actually face increased physical and mental harm as the stress piles up. So what can be done to help combat this level of stress in seniors and students in general?

“Our school has made a solid effort to minimize stress through the stress-free weeks and the homework-free weekends. Although these solutions aren’t perfect, I think the fact that we as a school are making an effort says something about how important we think mental health is for our students.” Griffey said.