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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

How to Balance College Applications while Enjoying Your Senior Year of High School

College applications can be stressful and overwhelming as exciting as the process is. You’re trying to decide where to go to school, figure out where it is feasible you might get in, study for standardized tests, work on personal statements, and get letters of recommendation. Additionally, trying to figure out the financials of college can feel like a full time job.

However, it’s also your senior year of high school. You want to enjoy your final year. You want to go to school dances, sporting events, and participate in all of the activities that are created for you to enjoy. You don’t want to spend every waking minute thinking about where you’re going to attend college.

How do you do it all? How do you find balance?

Even prior to senior year, many students participate in excess extracurriculars, striving to boost their college applications. Some students have even begun participating in activities not because they enjoy them, but because they think they may boost their admissions prospects. By overloading their schedules, they don’t participate in any activity fully and instead have mediocre experiences, a full schedule, and added stress. All of this is with the aim of achieving admission at their dream college.

There has to be a balance between preparing oneself for college, and enjoying the high school experience. Further, there has to be a balance between preparing oneself for the college admissions process, and preparing oneself for college. Those are two drastically different things. If you spend all of college focused on the admissions process, you’ll lose vital experiences which could actually be helpful for the college experience.

Preparing for College Admissions

Yes, there are certain things on a college application that you do need to consider while in high school. You should work on getting good grades and participating in one or two extracurriculars that you enjoy.

However, getting into an Ivy League shouldn’t trump every other aspect of your high school career. In fact, there is no research which shows getting into a top university means guaranteed career success. Of course, it can help. But so can hard work and determination at a lesser ranked school. Finding balance during high school is the first step in ensuring success post graduation from college, whichever school that may be.

Big name companies are realizing this as well. It appears college rankings are becoming less and less important. For instance, Amazon announced that it will be investing 3 million dollars to different community colleges and technical colleges to support four year computer science programs. Many Big Tech companies have done the same.

This is not to say that one shouldn’t aspire for a top school or that these schools cannot be advantageous. But, they are not the only path to success. Not all top talent comes from the Ivy Leagues.

Preparing for College

High school is meant to be a stepping stone for college. Of course, the classes taken should provide important preparation for courses which will be taken in college. But more than that, high school students learn valuable, practical life skills that will be transferable to the college classroom and beyond. Increased pressure to be at the top of one’s class and to attend a good college has led some students to be unable to soak in as many of the experiences offered in the classroom.

Students go to bed too late, get up too early, and provide themselves little room for self-exploration.

Competition for college will not be ending anytime soon. In fact, it will likely only increase. It’s important to find a way to balance the inevitable pressure which comes with college admissions and enjoying, and soaking in, all that high school has to offer.

Increased Pressure

The college application process has become more and more competitive over the years. With that competitiveness, has come increased pressure.

Students take advanced classes as soon as they are offered, take AP courses, and take courses at the local community college while in high school. Some parents hire private tutors and students strategically pick the activities that look the best on Ivy League applications.

These things aren’t all bad. They can provide great experiences for students. However, this is only true if the student is not so overwhelmed by the pressures of college admissions that they are able to soak in the things they are experiencing.

Furthermore, in many ways the pressure of college admissions is unnecessary because there is physically no way to guarantee admission. There is no magic formula. Even if you do everything “right,” top schools may not accept you. You could be on the honor roll, take AP classes, participate in extracurriculars, and receive stellar letters of recommendation and still not be accepted to Harvard.

Further, things are changing and will continue to change. The pandemic is a great example of how fluid things like college admissions can be. For instance, during the pandemic, things like extracurricular experiences mattered less on college applications because universities understood that many extracurriculars had been put on hold due to COVID-19. Students furthermore had to be adaptable and figure out their own opportunities during a time period when many things were constrained.

Letting it Set in

If you’re skeptical about this piece, and still believe getting into a phenomenal school is the epitome of success, try talking to trusted adults in your life to see what success means to them. They might explain success as being surrounded by those they love, having a loving family, having a fulfilling career, achieving financial stability, or something completely different. Most will not say their epitome of success was attending a certain college.

Try to remember that the focus is meant to be on the act of learning, not on the place where that learning is occurring.

Letting go of some of the pressure tying you to the application process means that you can have a more stress-free high school experience and better mental and physical health.


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