Limiting College Applications Will Reduce Anxiety

Amanda Young, Editor-in-Chief

It’s nearing the end of October and a crippling sense of fear and dread is growing in the hearts of many high school students. It’s not the impending Halloween holiday that concerns them.

It’s the looming deadline for college applications.

While, as a junior, I’ve yet to begin filling out the applications or writing the essays, I’ve spent enough time surrounded by stressed-out seniors to know that the process is overwhelming, to say the least.

With a growing number of students applying, and more jobs requiring a degree, college admissions are becoming increasingly more competitive.

It’s understandable that the process seems to get more stressful each year.

However, I believe that limiting the number of colleges to which students can apply is a good way to alleviate some of this pressure.

According to UCLA Newsroom‘s 2019 report, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) received 135,000 applications for prospective freshmen and transfer applicants for enrollment in fall 2019, the most of any college in the country. The University of California, Berkeley received 85,044 applications for fall 2019, according to CNBC’s 2018 admissions data analysis.

Boston University became the 1st New England institution to break 60,000 fall freshman applications in 2017, according to an article by BU Today.

Over 35% of students now apply to 7 or more schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  This is a significant increase from the 9% of students who did so in 1990.

Coinciding with this rise in applications are decreases in acceptance rates at some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges. According to the Pew Research Center, Stanford University accepted 4.7% of its applicants, Harvard University accepted 5.2%, and Yale University accepted 6.9% in 2017. UCLA accepted 16.1%; UC Berkeley accepted 17.1%.

A natural reaction to these staggeringly-low acceptance rates may be to simply apply to more colleges to increase one’s odds. However, this can lead to harmful repercussions – both for you and for other prospective students.

By applying to 7, 10, or even 20 universities (the maximum currently allowed by the Common Application, which most colleges use), students not only make the process more stressful for themselves, but also overwhelm colleges with applications, leading to the rejection of many qualified students.

According to The Washington Post, a Tufts University undergraduate dean said that 74% of the 20,000 applicants in 2019 were deemed qualified – but that the school could only accept 16% of them. Thus, students inadvertently make the pool more competitive by applying to more and more colleges. Limiting the number to which they can apply would improve everyone’s odds of admission.

College applications aren’t free, either.

U.S. News data reported that, among the 55 colleges with the highest application fees, the average cost was $77 per school. Applying to 15 schools puts your cost at upward of $1000 – excluding the money you’ve already spent on AP Exams, SATs, ACTs, transcripts, and more.

While some schools waive their application fees, even though many Lamorinda families can afford to pay, it is still a significant amount of money, especially considering the fact that students will only end up attending 1 college.

The emotional stress that stems from applying to dozens of colleges should also not be ignored. In a time where anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation rates among teens are skyrocketing, it’s important that we acknowledge how the college application process affects students’ mental health.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Medical Daily, 49% of students feel a great deal of stress on a daily basis, and college preparation was 1 of the 3 main causes of that stress.

An article by The New York Times added, “Doctors and educators also worry that stress tied to academic achievement can lead to depression, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.” The article noted that, in addition to the stress of college applications, the psychological effect of rejections is notable.

“If success is defined very narrowly, such as a fat envelope from a specific college, then many kids end up going through it and feeling like a failure,” Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said in the New York Times article.

The United Kingdom university system has already implemented policies that restrict the number of students’ applications. All British institutions require 1 application, and students may only apply to 5 schools per year. In addition, they cannot apply to both the University of Oxford and Cambridge University – 2 of the world’s most prestigious schools – in the same year. This system pushes students to reflect on their priorities, interests, preferences, and futures so that they can make informed decisions.

The tendency to apply to tons of schools pushes the idea that name schools are more important than schools that fit a student’s preferences. While I understand that many students don’t know exactly what they want or what they’d like to study, most have an idea of their ideal geographical location, campus culture, and academic rigor, so mindlessly applying to colleges does nothing to help people make decisions.

It’s undeniable that getting into college is more difficult than ever before, and I’m not encouraging you to apply to just 1 or 2; however, it is important that you have a thoughtful list of safety, target, and reach colleges. They should be deliberate choices.

Putting a cap on the number of colleges to which students can apply would shrink the competition down to students who have actually thoughtfully selected each college – making the process less stressful for everyone.