Student Life

The Debilitating Process of Applying to College

A student explores the emotions of the college admissions process -- from the highs to the lows.

Charles Schnell

December 13, 2019

The Debilitating Process of Applying to College
It all starts with the list. You, a bright-eyed, rising high school senior (or possibly younger), are putting together a list of schools to which you are going to apply, schools of all shapes and sizes, but unfortunately, of similar high tuitions. This upcoming school year marks the end of your high school journey and the beginning of the remainder of your fleeting, academic life. You have dreams of ending up at your favorite school, the school you’ve possibly been dreaming of for your whole life. You are definitely going to make it. However, this voyage to the start of adulthood will not be easy. You have many big tasks ahead of you: create your application accounts, ask teachers for letters of recommendation, retake the SAT or ACT until you have a score you are satisfied with, pay to send those scores to your schools, complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile, buy enough tissue boxes to soak up your tears, fulfill all of your extracurricular commitments and miscellaneous responsibilities, keep up with your classes by completing your homework on time, and -- perhaps the most daunting of all -- write, revise, and polish your extensive list of application essays. Needless to say, you work hard over the first semester of the school year. Sweat and tears stream down your face as you write those history research papers, complete those science labs, sob because your crush wouldn’t be your partner in your Home-Ec class for the raising-a-baby activity, write those college application essays, review them with your college counselor and Mom, cry as you revise everything about those essays, and smile as you type in your parent’s credit card number and become an Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision applicant to your top school! And so the story goes for many high school seniors, including -- totally sparing the part about the tissues -- me. I must admit, for all of our self-deprecation and tendency to minimize the importance of certain things in order to ease our minds, we sure do work hard as prospective and hopeful college students. We have to fulfill all of the responsibilities listed above -- while also trying to get home by seven. We spend this first semester and, for some, part of the second semester cranking out our application essays and submitting everything we need to. It’s an arduous process, but eventually, you find yourself looking at the list of all the schools you’re applying to and crossing out the final school on it: You’ve made it. Now, we are playing the waiting game. During this time, one could drive themselves crazy with anxiety as they wait for their admissions decisions to be released. If you find yourself caught up in anxiety and unable to think rationally, I would recommend trying to calm down by keeping yourself occupied with various tasks: commit more time to your current clubs or sports if you are able to, find a new club to join or activity to participate in, consider applying for part-time jobs if that interests you, search for a list of hobbies online and start trying some of them out, or try getting more involved in your academic studies and studying ahead. And, before you know it -- uh-oh! Decision day has arrived! There are multiple possible outcomes: “Congratulations, we are pleased to offer you admission to _______ for the Class of 2024! If we are your top choice, I bet this is the best letter you could ever receive! If not, well, we hope that no matter what happens, you end up one happy college student. To confirm your enrollment at ________, head to the enrollment page on our website and be prepared to pay a three-digit enrollment fee!” You could be placed on the waitlist, which is equivalent to “we really like you, but space is limited, so please wait until we can confirm whether we can offer you admission or not.” This is not the end of the world, but be prepared to explore alternative options if your favorite school happens to place you on their waitlist. If you applied early anywhere, there is a chance you are deferred to regular decision, which essentially means you have to wait longer for your final decision to be released. Hang in there! It’ll be here before you know it. And, finally, it could be the worst-case-scenario: You open the mail to find a letter written with nothing but regret, stating that a school cannot offer you admission to the term for which you applied. This is definitely the toughest blow you can receive when you open that decision letter. And now, you have to deal with the most debilitating, depressing part of this process: denial. It’s unfair, isn’t it? All those pain-staking hours you stayed up, mulling over which words to cut from your application essay, wondering what else others are writing about, stressing over whether you’ll get enough aid even if you get in. In your reaction to denial, here are a few things to remember to help you cheer up and move past it: • You’re not alone. There are thousands of others who wanted to get in just as much as you did, but did not. But, they will all turn out okay. They will all be accepted elsewhere and will all be happy wherever they end up. And so will you. • Don’t compare yourself to friends, acquaintances, or frenemies. If they get in, great for them. You are different people, but both equally as valuable. The school made a decision that they should not have. • If you do not get into your first choice, but get into another school, think about how many people’s first choice was that school you got into. Remember how lucky you are: You get to go to college, and all colleges are great in their own way. Not everybody gets to go to college, but you do. Treasure that. • Finally, please remember that a school is just that: a school. Your school does not define you. Your alma mater is not who or what you are. What you do with the education you get at wherever you go is what defines your life. Although it may not seem like it right now, senior year will come to pass. Eventually, you will receive all of your decisions, and you will make your own. No matter what the outcome is and what school you choose to go to, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve succeeded. You’ve lived through your childhood, and now, it is time for adulthood. You persevered, which is what life is really all about. Perseverance.

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