Has the process of college admissions grown more stressful?

Simone Westerlund, Op/Ed Editor

Often, students feel extremely overwhelmed about all of the complex parts of college applications

Many seniors currently are head spinning with stress as college applications are coming down to the wire. Throughout the whole process, it seems to many that there are thousands of pieces that are needed by colleges, and it seems like seniors are never done, or at least until they click the submit button. Because there are so many different online applications, it seems impossible for many students to track their work in the digital world. Also, in the last few years, the application due dates have become earlier and earlier, and it seems like the application process is longer and longer. We talked to some people who have experienced the immense stress first hand.

Olivia Geist (12) is applying to eleven different schools, and has submitted applications to three so far. “I think the most stressful part is trying to condense your personality into a single application, especially when writing the essays. It’s also hard not to compare yourself to others; the process messes with your self esteem,” Geist said. “I think I learned a few valuable skills, like how to write a resume or how to act during an interview. But for the most part it feels like I’m jumping through hoops, and paying far too much money for things that should be free, like application fees or score-reporting fees.”

Bella Rutledge (12) and Grace Hughes (12) are sisters, so a lot of their college admissions stress is shared together. “We received a decent amount of pressure from our parents. For me it wasn’t overwhelming, maybe at times but… overall my parents helped me through the process,” Rutledge said. “I think I wouldn’t be done at this point if it wasn’t for them holding us accountable,” Hughes said. Rutledge believes that writing the essays or short answer questions were the most stressful part. “I think that essays are so stressful because your self is reflected in your writing rather than in person, admissions counselors can’t really see you fully,” Rutledge said. Hughes believes that the most stressful part is having to keep track of all of the individual details from all of the different applications. The sisters have decided on what they want to study; Grace has decided on studying Biochemistry, and Bella is planning on studying interior architecture and design. 

Grace Hughes and Bella Rutledge’s parents were a large part in helping them along the college admissions process. “We were able to help them explore different opportunities and interests, and help set timelines for application deadlines,” said Eric Hughes, father of sisters Grace and Bella. “I think that helping them [Grace and Bella] find the school and program that was the best fit was the most stressful,” Hughes said. “We were involved as far as scheduling, making sure that everything got done, and reviewing essays. I don’t think we’ll step back until we decide what school we’ll go to and make a final decision.”

When Phoebe Donaldson completed her college admissions at Sehome in 2018, she believed that the process was beneficial. “I think that you learn what you want out of your college experience and things that you don’t want. In turn, I believe that this makes you appreciate the specific things that are unique to your college experience and makes you feel proud that you worked hard to get yourself there,” Donaldson said. Donaldson is currently a sophomore at the University of Washington, and is studying to eventually receive a Masters Degree in Pediatric Medicine. “From a young age I had a passion for science and medicine. My mom is a veterinarian and I grew up going to work with her whenever I could and learning from her. This fostered my passion and inspired me to pursue a career in medicine. Probably around age 15 I decided I wanted to pursue a career in pediatric medicine.” 

The most experienced people at Sehome that deal with college admissions are by far the counselors. Counselor John VanderMolen commented on the applications process and its stress. “I enjoy having conversations with students and what they are thinking, like having the discussion with students to make them reflect and different possibilities, I enjoy reading essays when I get that opportunity, it’s such a fun culmination,” VanderMolen said. 

However, VanderMolen believes that the college admissions process has grown to be more stressful. “I would say two pieces to me that have become so stressful is the bigger emphasis of getting your applications in earlier which causes a lot of stress. Some people are ready, and a lot of people are still processing where they want to apply… Another stressful process is the many different application platforms. We have the individual applications for different schools. And within those, schools need many different things. With every single detail you add on, it adds more stress. The difficult part is that many seniors are still getting to know themselves, and if there was a way to simplify it, it would be easier,” VanderMolen said. 

Another counselor, Mrs. Schutz agreed with Mr. VanderMolen that the two biggest stressors that have come up in the last couple of years are the earlier deadlines and the digital application platforms. “I would say that there are two things trending that do cause stress; earlier deadlines and the differing application platforms. Time pressure in the fall feels tighter, and with online applications, tracking for students can be really stressful,” Schutz said.

Many current and previous students have always seen the college application process to be stressful, but it’s important that students stay grounded, and like many mentioned, putting their mental health and self care first.