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College Application Stress is Too Much, Too Soon

Cartoon+by+Jinle+Zhu
Cartoon by Jinle Zhu

Cartoon by Jinle Zhu

Cartoon by Jinle Zhu

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“But you’re a junior. You don’t have to worry about college yet!”

Perhaps laughing when people say this to me isn’t the best response. But I do, because the truth, the one I’ve experienced, is that college is a looming force in my life.

I can’t speak for every high school junior, but the goals of getting good grades, joining clubs and building a resume for college applications has been at the forefront of my mind since freshman year.

In my 9th grade English class, our faculty introduced Naviance, a site to help compare colleges and keep track of extracurriculars, and I distinctly remember being told something along the lines of “this will be extremely helpful when it comes to applying to colleges.”

I know current freshmen who are taking AP classes to boost their GPAs for college applications, but then they struggle in those classes (because they are freshmen who aren’t prepared for the college-level work that comes with an AP class), pulling down their GPAs instead. I have friends my own age who join too many clubs because “it looks good on college applications,” but then don’t have time for a social life.

No problem our generation faces can be attributed to one cause, but I think the college process would be a good place to start. If we can stop telling freshmen to start thinking about college, stop making our learning all about our future, and start allowing students to focus on being the kids they are instead, perhaps we can all take an interest in learning for the sake of learning.”

I don’t pretend not to care about college– I work hard for good grades. I, like my peers, am in many clubs, and I worry just as much as the next student about getting into a ‘good’ college. That being said, I worry about what going through the college application process is doing to my generation. It seems to me that the process is starting far earlier than senior year, and it’s clearly putting a strain on us.

Some may dismiss the growing concern for current and future high school students, dismissing the college application process and other stressors as minor, no different from stressors in previous decades.

However, the data suggests we should be very concerned. Starting in 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA asked incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed by all [they] had to do” during the previous year.

While 18 percent said they felt overwhelmed in 1985, 29 percent responded yes in 2010, and in the past year it has jumped to 41 percent.

In addition, new research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Society’s Meeting in San Francisco, the number of children and teens admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of suicide or self-harm has more than doubled over the past ten years.

I don’t have a degree in this, let alone a degree in anything, but I don’t think it takes one to see that something is going wrong. I look around at my friends and classmates, and I can no longer count on both hands how many are medicated for extreme anxiety and/or depression, and I came close to being on meds for anxiety, as well.

I don’t think this is all to blame on college. We’re living in an age where everything we say or do is posted on social media for the world to see, where there are so many unspoken rules of the internet that it’s easy to lose track, and where our mistakes are eternalized online.

No problem our generation faces can be attributed to one cause, but I think the college process would be a good place to start. If we can stop telling freshmen to start thinking about college, stop making our learning all about our future, and start allowing students to focus on being the kids they are instead, perhaps we can all take an interest in learning for the sake of learning.

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College Application Stress is Too Much, Too Soon