Juniors should not stress about the college process (yet)

Students have enough time and support throughout the application process to keep them from falling behind

As a second semester senior, I am in an optimal position to critique the yearlong struggle/process/madness I have endured and finally completed — college applications. I’ve been through the process; I applied to way too many schools; I wrote most of my application essays way too close to the deadline. In short, everyone makes a big deal about it. However, to say the least, juniors in the process of applying to college need to calm down. College may determine where you live and/or study for the next four years, but the mindset in which juniors approach this stressful time is all wrong.

For one, junior year is too early to overly stress about college. Sure it’s great that you’re seeking out a potential list of schools, but unless you’re getting recruited to colleges for athletics, all you juniors need to realize is that a multitude of things trump the beginning of the college application process. Grades and standardized testing are the two components most highly weighed when comparing applicants. Grades arguably matter most during junior year, so why veer from previous priorities and complain about college apps and the process now?

Junior year is also the time to finally appreciate sleep as shuteye hours only diminish. Junior year is also the time to actually enjoy extracurriculars before all the free time diverges to application essay writing. Junior also allows you the time to venture out and meet new people in various programs and internships. Come senior year, when the college application crunch actually tightens, chances are you will still cringe at the fact that there are many essays left for you to write, no matter how early you may have started. There’s no need to unnecessarily elongate an already stressful process.

Additionally, over the years, there has also been great controversy over the manner in which Paly staff assist students in the college application process. Many believe that teacher advisor (TA) recommendations aren’t personal enough because the TA may not find the opportunity to interview or get to know each and every student he or she is writing a letter for. As inefficient you may perceive the mid-junior year College and Career Center (CCC) college planning orientation, the presentations effectively provided the information they intended to convey — to provide a first glimpse at the college application process ahead. The fact that our teachers, TAs and CCC advisors devote countless hours of effort ought to relieve much of the stress juniors face, even if this may not be apparent at the outset. The hard work TAs and recommenders to should provide every student the reason to relax and not stress over parts of the college application process you have little control over. At some point, the college conversation will become rather repetitive, and the fate of your applications is completely out of your hands for regular decision by January. It is better to accept when things leave your hand and focus on having fun in your senior year. Rather than complaining about how few resources you can get your hands on or how unpredictable the Common Application may be come November, you should realize that there is in fact plenty of time to plan and prepare for college.

Even for the lucky students that are accepted in Early Decision, the deadline to enroll still remains in the following year. This gap leaves ample time for reflection on your next four years of education and where you will want to be experiencing them.

To be honest, the entire concept of visiting colleges before applying is, with the exception of intentions to apply early decision, absurd. Coming into the college application process firsthand last year, I set out to visit many of the schools I applied to over the summer break instead of when they were in session. In hindsight, this proved counterintuitive and ultimately unnecessary.

For me, visiting campuses over the summer may have provided a preliminary feel for student life, yet I ended with only an idealistic and truly incomplete perspective of each college I visited by the end of the tours. In addition, touring schools across the nation is also quite pricy, as the combinations of transportation, living accommodations and other tertiary costs stack up quickly. Asking current students about their current college experiences and surfing the web for virtual online tours arguably provides an equally informational perspective on each college. This in turn makes an extra $75 application fee and seemingly similar supplement to apply to another institution seem like less of a burden and more so like an investment, especially if a college accepts you.

Alternatively, visiting after being admitted provides a more realistic opportunity to get a feel of a college campus, as often times institutions will host admitted student tours or special overnight events. And come spring, the only stress that lingers in the second semester senior comes in the form of whether you made the right decision by signing a university’s Statement of Intent to Register form. After all the stress of applying, this is a good problem to have.
At the end of it all, both the college application and decision processes are representative of what you personally make them to be. The application may be a grind for the first part of senior year, but come April, you won’t look back. The prospects of applying to college likely won’t be fun, but when you finally get to decide what college to attend, making the decision will make it all worth it.