Preparing for the Future: College

I’m just one month into Senior year and I have to admit, I'm already stressed. Don’t get me wrong: interning, taking AP classes, and holding a leadership position in multiple clubs can be stressful, but they aren’t the source of my stress. I've learned how to cope with the pressures of keeping up with these responsibilities (check out my post "Balance, Balance, Balance" for more on that).

There is one task, though, that I have been dreading since Spring of junior year. It keeps me awake at night and is a constant source of stress. What, you may ask, is this onerous task? I have just three words: applying for college.

Ever since I was a child, I remember constantly being asked what I want to do when I’m older. I never stressed over the question. Sometimes I would respond "doctor," other times "singer/songwriter," or, when I was especially ambitious, I would bluntly respond, "rich." I always thought, Seems simple, right? I figured I’d grow up and poof! one day I would be living in the home of my dreams with the job of my dreams. Well, as it turns out, I was wrong. Very wrong.

I was in sixth grade when I first realized that I wasn’t just finished after high school. While some students plan for other paths for their future, I knew that I wanted to go to college. Yet I didn’t realize what this entailed. It was one of the first days of school and my teacher was lecturing my class about how, while at the moment it didn’t seem like middle school mattered, in fact it did.

We needed to build our study habits and work ethic in middle school, we were told, so by the time we got to high school, we would have a strong foundation to ensure that our grades would be strong enough to get into a good college. COLLEGE??!? Uh, excuse me teacher, I did not sign up for more school. I thought I would be done with sitting in classrooms and taking tests and quizzes after high school. When I graduated, I could simply apply to become a doctor. Right?

As I’ve gotten older, the stress of college has only worsened. Now, the question of what I want to do when I graduate makes me want to run away. I spent this summer in New Jersey and met a lot of new people. The one thing they all had in common was that every single person would ask me where I was applying for college and if I had toured any yet.

I get what seems like hundreds of emails from schools wanting me to check them out because of my “amazing potential to thrive at their university.” I spend hours studying for and taking standardized tests, filling out personal information, and writing my college essay for the Common App. Oh, and don’t forget the additional writing supplements that colleges can add on with questions ranging from “Why us?” to “What makes you special?” Then there are the application fees.

In a world that is becoming increasingly competitive, it can feel as though we are just doing things for how it will look on a college application. We can feel defined by our test scores and no matter how many times we take the SAT or ACT, our scores will never be enough.

It baffles me that society has turned what should be the most exciting time of our teenage lives, looking ahead to college and a career, into a process that is arduous. Even my friends who weren’t worried at first about applying for college started to become stressed because they felt as though they should be stressed. This, in my opinion, can be even more stressful than just being stressed in the first place!

But it doesn’t have to be this way and I refuse to (any longer) allow myself to become sick at the idea of applying for college. So, here’s a list that I put together to help manage the stress:

  • Take advantage of your resources. There are plenty of resources out there to help guide you through the application process. Talk to your guidance counselor, sign up for a class, attend job/college fairs, watch webinars, and more!
  • Be proactive. Procrastination can just add to the stress. Start looking at the Common App, plan your college essay, ask your teachers for letters of recommendation. Trust me, your future self will thank you.
  • Know yourself. It is overwhelming that there are thousands of universities to choose from. Narrow the options by asking yourself what you are looking for in a college. Do you want to stay close to home or travel far away? Do you want a small or large school? What is the social life like? Does it offer courses and majors that match your interests?
  • Take a breath. Yes, it will be tiring. Yes, at times you will question if it’s worth it. But you cannot let these negative thoughts cloud your mind. Take a break when you need one. Don’t forget this is your last year of high school. Enjoy it!