Hyperfocus on college is detrimental to mental health


Remy Wong, Manager

Think back to the first time you thought about your college application. I’m sure for most of us that would be middle school, or even elementary. However, you probably have realized this unnecessary stress has gone to no avail. The pressure of what we know as “college application season” is upon us, and it is just as detrimental as ever.

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a college application Facebook group that I truly witnessed the ripple effect college applications spark every year. Dating from even before the pandemic, the parents in this online platform discussed several ways to “beat the system,” or in other words, exploit their children’s accomplishments to cater to certain schools. These debates stretched across several topics, including the importance of applying early decision, which extracurricular activities to indulge in and even racial quotas.

The same activity is observed on Reddit, specifically various college application subreddits that are popular among teenage students. The discussion posts include students ranting about their college applications, followed by several hate comments from those who feel belittled by other grand accomplishments. In addition, there was an extreme concern surrounding the big question college applications prompt us with: What have you done with your life so far?

How can we answer that, as 16 to 18-year-olds, with the assurance and determination colleges are looking for? This is where the demoralizing stress comes from, evidently causing teenagers to compete and lash out against each other. 

Along with the worry that students may “not be good enough”, the stakes are high if not accepted to a respectable school. The social aspect along with educational opportunities make Ivy League schools more desirable, so many students would agree that they, and their parents, would be extremely disappointed in themselves if they didn’t make it in. This added pressure is yet another reason why college applications become such an obsession. 

Even though there are many other successful options than attending a 4-year college, the media and environment makes it feel as though it is looked down upon.

— Remy Wong

Not only is there a social stigma, but also due to the pandemic, it is not as simple as going to a community college and transferring anymore.

College admissions counselors reveal that COVID-19 caused a multitude of people to take a gap year. This caused a drastic increase in all applicants, unexpectedly lowering most college’s acceptance rates. Even if students decide to transfer, most colleges require a reapplication, which has become a more competitive process in light of these recent events. As a result, students focus on being accepted to a university right after high school, a path that is seemingly more streamlined and accomplished. 

Still, as easy as it is to blame these toxic environments on social conditioning, it comes down to the application itself and how it portrays students. There is only so much a person can show within 350 to 650 words, and a lot of supplements are simply “Why do you want to go to this college?” and “Why did you choose this major?”. It takes a lot of exaggeration to exemplify personality on paper when given such broad prompts. Perhaps it was the intention to spark creativity, but the current college applications only increase stress and hyperfixation on other people’s accomplishments. 

For example, take collegeessayguy.com, originally a platform meant to provide essay advice from professional college counselors. Instead it is met with students comparing themselves to the example essays the website provides. One of the comments I read was about a student wanting to write about a chore they really enjoyed doing for their family, but thought it might be “disrespectful” and that the “prompt is looking for topics that are more serious such as living with a disability”. There were multiple of these uncertainties on almost all of the articles they posted, showing how much students are concerned they are not meeting the criteria for dream schools. 

College applications and social media do nothing but provide a more toxic environment of emotional dumping and negative effects on mental health. Instead, students, parents, and teachers alike should work on destigmatizing the college application process, and even advocate for a better application system. But for now until regular decision deadlines, give the seniors some encouragement; they will need it in this stressful process towards their future.