The Stress of Applying to College

The stress of applying and hoping to be accepted to college is feeding on students’ minds as they approach graduation.


Melina Lotito, Staff Writer

A student waits intently, hoping to hear back from the colleges that she spent so much of her time applying to. Gathering letters of recommendation from teachers, formulating a college essay, listing extracurricular activities, grades, GPA, and achievements–these tasks can cause palpable stress. But there are other factors that seniors and their families must take into consideration. For example, how far or close the student is willing to travel for college, the cost of tuition, and the availability of the program one wishes to study or pursue.

This is what society calls the college application process. At this school, where you go after high school is a big deal. The acceptances from last year’s class included Harvard, Duke, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, and many other prestigious schools. Colleges seem to be on every student’s mind, whether she is an incoming freshman or a senior ready to pick up his high school diploma. It is something that is exciting and is a reflection of all the student’s hard work throughout his or her educational career. While our school, with its high educational standards, does put a lot of pressure on students, many say that the pressure does not bother them, and our guidance counselors try their best in preparing and polishing students for college.

So how does this process actually work? Between private college coaches, SAT and ACT prep courses, and college visits, looking at college from a big picture can be daunting to most students. The Common App (a website and application, is a site that almost every student at this school uses to apply to colleges. Offering advice for financial aid, how to apply to college, what colleges to apply to and more, the Common App provides students with everything they need to know about applying to college. Over 600 colleges in the nation use the Common App, and students find it extremely useful and a stress reliever.

If we break up the college application process into parts, it becomes slightly less overwhelming to look at. There are one’s grades, which students have already worked their whole school careers to attain. A GPA, or grade point average, is vital to one’s application to almost all colleges. Another crucial factor is the college essay. This is the part where students gets to write about who they are and include what makes them special or unique from the thousands of other applicants. Letters of recommendation from teachers are also important. While some students may believe that it is not the number one thing colleges look at, it could be the one factor that sets them apart or determines their acceptance. For example, if you and another competing applicant have the same GPA and strong essays, but one student has a strong recommendation, while the other student’s recommendation is not that good, the college admission officers will most likely choose the student with the better recommendation. Other factors include standardized test scores like ACT and SAT, achievements (scholarships and other awards inside or outside of school), and extracurricular activities inside and outside of school like jobs, internships, clubs, sports, community service or volunteer work.

Our school offers a college essay writing course over the span of three days in August. The course is made up of three two-hour sessions. It is taught by faculty of the Tenafly Public Schools. Each section of the course is limited to fourteen students, so that students can have more individual attention. The price is ninety dollars per student. But even through the help of teachers, parents, guidance counselors, and their school, students still experience stress that is taking a toll on their health. “I worry about the pressure we are putting on students and what message we are sending,” said Mrs. Jayne Bembridge, the Director of Guidance at the school. “Don’t measure yourself to other people.” Medical professionals are concerned that the stress of college applications may leave a big footprint in children’s health and not in a good way. In her article “College’s High Cost, Before You Even Apply,” Tara Parker-Pope states, “Students complain about lack of sleep, stomach pain and headaches, but doctors and educators also worry that stress tied to academic achievement can lead to depression, eating disorders and other mental health problems.

Seniors of the school claim that while applying to college is stressful, it is a rewarding process in return. “I would rate the college application process at an eight,” said Rachel Sarnak (18’). “Although there are a lot of rumors about it, and, yes, it’s hard and there is a lot to manage, if you are effective and you work hard to make sure everything is done on time, it’s fulfilling at the end.”

Another major issue is how to decide where to go to college. Students typically have two lists of schools to which they are applying. One list is referred to as their “safety schools.” “A safety school is a school that you’re reasonably confident that you are going to get into into,” said Noah Goldstein (‘18), “I think the important part to note about them is that even though they might be your backup plan and a reasonable school for you to get into, they should still be somewhere you are happy about going; and you shouldn’t apply to any that you wouldn’t be content on going to.” The other list of colleges students might apply to are reach schools. These are schools that are a stretch in relation to the student’s grades or test scores. With reach schools, a student potentially wants to strive high and see what happens.

I know I don’t have to go to the top university to get an amazing education[/pullquote]Sarnak gave advice on how students should not allow Tenafly’s high standards to get to them. “Tenafly is a very competitive academic school that you think that it would add so much pressure to the individual to get into the top schools in the nation, but if you put that aside and think about yourself in the bigger picture of things and not as one student at Tenafly, but as a student that’s going to learn, grow, and develop at their own rate, then it’s different. I know I don’t have to go to the top university to get an amazing education, and I’m happy to apply to the schools that I know I’m going to fit into the most that don’t necessarily compare to Tenafly’s standards.”

“People in Tenafly will apply to about 12-15 schools,” Goldstein said. According to “How Many Colleges Should You Apply To? Expert Guide,” by Justin Berkman, the average college-bound student should apply to 6-8 colleges: 2-3 reach colleges, 2-3 target colleges, and 2 safety schools. “I think it’s also important to look at the type of community you would like to be apart of,” said Goldstein. “It needs to be somewhere where you are going to fit in, because it doesn’t matter how great of school it is or how great of a location it has, if it’s not somewhere that you feel comfortable at.”

Underclassmen who are not even close to applying to college but have it on their minds should take advice and learn from seniors currently in the process. Students in the class of 2018 agree that one should not procrastinate and leave college applications for the night before the way some might with their homework. “Get started early because you don’t want the school year to roll around and have your school work on top of essays,” Goldstein said. “Don’t leave stuff for the last minute.”

Related Links:


Application Trends, the Common App

How to Get into an Ivy League School

The Waiting Game