The college admissions process draws a fine line between student success and defeat. For years, seniors have struggled to navigate submitting their applications and, now, after countless months of structure lost, mental health is playing a daunting role in the process.
In and out of school, young people are taught to be ambitious and strive to achieve at the highest level possible. With that, students who chase nearly unattainable standards often feel overwhelming amounts of stress and poor mental health. This pattern appears in the daily lives of students and, more specifically, in the process of finding a post-high school plan that satisfies one’s goals and ambitions.
The college application consists of three major components: one’s personal statement and information, financial status and supplemental essays, an element to the application that many schools require.
In addition to focusing on admissions work, many seniors are swarmed with school work, sports and other non-school related activities and commitments.
“The process has really been mentally draining. Luckily, I knew early on what schools I wanted to go to and had started all my essays at the end of the school year last year, but having to submit them during the school year while simultaneously taking high rigor courses is stressful. I am thankful to have the resources to relieve stress and find help when I need it, but it is really hard having to juggle our grades, college applications, sports and jobs,” senior Ava Axelrood says.
The overarching connection between seniors in regards to student wellbeing proves just how time consuming and strenuous the college process can be.
“The college process has taken a significant toll on me mentally,” senior Maddie Powell says. “On top of other school work, I always had college lists in the back of my mind that needed to be tackled. I felt as though I was drowning in work. I completed most of my college work while I was in season for tennis and was also doing a job.”
In the thick of the pandemic, colleges adopted several changes in hopes of providing greater opportunities for students to focus on academic performance, which appeared most commonly in the form of eliminating the pressure to submit standardized test scores. Despite following a more typical school structure this year, a considerable number of colleges have kept these modifications intact.
“The test optional component has been a life saver for me throughout the application process. I personally am an awful test taker, as I assume others to be as well. In a way, I would say that the pandemic getting in the way of allowing us to take these tests was a blessing in disguise. It forced colleges to truly look into each individual application without focusing solely on the standardized test scores,” Powell says. “I believe that the standardized testing process is unfair because certain families are able to pay for tutoring and one-on-one prep sessions to improve their students’ overall scores, while others do not have the means to pay for test prep, let alone the actual test. I would strongly encourage colleges to remain test optional in the future.”
This is yet another commonality shared among seniors.
“[College’s applications becoming test-optional] was helpful; it took the pressure off studying for standardized tests, which made the entire process easier,” says senior Sid Mehrotra. “A lot of students get anxious when it comes to submitting test scores, and, with the new test optional policies, a majority of this anxiety disappears.”
The decrease in stress levels thanks to test optional schools is not only apparent to students, but ETHS faculty have taken note of this difference as well.
“This year, I feel like kids are much more knowledgeable about how they want to approach testing. Students are like ‘I’m not sending my score’ or ‘I am going to send it.’ It’s different this year in terms of anxiety around standardized testing. And again, having had the opportunity to test and retest for certain classes has been, like I said, less stress inducing,” ETHS’ College and Career Coordinator Beth Arey says.
Returning to in person learning has proven beneficial for increasing equity in the college application process.
“Last year, at the early action and early decision time, which is when we usually have most of our applications submitted, we were down by 50 percent for students of color, and that is a lot relational because students of color typically want to have more one-on-one instruction [on the application process]. Now that we’re back, I’m seeing again, a really diverse range of students and a significantly larger number [of early action and decision applications from students of color] than last year,” Arey shares.
Arey’s role as College and Career Coordinator typically involves discussion of college lists, essay review and editing assistance, as well as general application support.
“I think I have the resources I need to succeed. One thing that has been a big help from the school is my counselor,” says senior Andrew Bartol. “ I have Ms. Morris, and she is on leave, so, for the fall, I’ve been transferred to Ms. Graham, and she has just been super helpful with any questions I have and making sure I’m on track for everything.”
Though some students find that they have the resources they need to succeed, other students find that they are lacking support from outside sources.
“I would love to say that I have every single resource necessary to succeed, but it is very difficult to tell. While I am thrilled to attend college next year, it is still a very stressful subject to consider. From finances to rigorous courses, college will not be as glamorous as some make it out to be,” Powell shares.
Students often overestimate their ability to complete the necessary steps of the college application process in a timely manner, mistakenly assuming ease. Arey emphasizes the importance of getting a head start, which will ultimately eliminate uneasiness when deadlines approach.
After going through the process themselves, seniors provide advice to those who aren’t very deep into college planning or haven’t yet begun the process.
“I would advise juniors to never compare themselves to other students. I personally believe that, in Evanston specifically, we turn the college application process into this intimidating and overwhelming roller coaster, which it definitely is at times. However, it does not have to be like this,” Powell says. “Each student will end up going to the right place for them, no matter the circumstances.”
Though it is important that students keep confidence in the process, it is also important to utilize the resources available to them.
“First of all, use your counselor; they are there to help and love to see students taking initiative. The next would be to start writing your common application essay during the summer before senior year. You can save yourself a lot of headache by getting as much done before the school year starts,” says senior Andrew Bartol. “Lastly is understanding deadlines. In general Nov. 1 is a popular deadline, and don’t let that November date trick you, it comes sooner than you think.”
Axelrood highlights the fact that choosing a school that satisfies one’s interests is a crucial step in a student’s career path.
“Get a strong understanding of what atmosphere of a campus you are looking for,” she says. “This will be your home for the next four years, and you want to set yourself up for happiness.”