How To Handle The Stress Of College Applications

When thinking about college applications, things that come to mind are GPA, ACT/SAT scores, extracurriculars, essays, due dates, and much more. All of these put together can create feelings of anxiety and angst. “Am I good enough? Will Johns Hopkins accept me? Maybe I should stick to community college. I can’t do this.” These are real thoughts going through the minds of seniors who will be starting applications this August. To combat these thoughts, I asked people who attend(ed) high caliber schools for advice on how to deal with the stress that comes with completing college applications.

What would you say to someone who is stressed out about college applications?

There are three things. First, everybody goes through the same process. You are not alone. Second, if you start early, your life becomes 10,000 times easier when it comes time to apply. Lastly, find somebody who you trust, who you look up to, that can help you through the process. That help can manifest itself in the form of essay revisions, reviewing your activities, or making sure that you don’t freak out about the process because they’ve been through it before.

– Alif Khalfan, Stanford University, Class of 2008 – B.S. in Computer Science

Your effort throughout your high school career will be clear when an admissions officer looks at your application – your grades, your extracurricular activities, your SAT/ACT score, and in some cases, your teacher recommendations. Your applications are just putting the gift of you in a box, packaging it, and putting a bow on top. Do the best you can, but know that every university has amazing opportunities, and wherever you go, you’ll flourish.”

– Sarah Bana, University of California, Irvine, Class of 2010 – B.A. in Quantitative Economics; Georgetown University, Class of 2013, – M.A. in Applied Economics; University of California, Santa Barbara; Ph.D. in Economics (in progress)

A student should not obsess themselves with the idea of prestige. It’s really hard being a small fish in a big pond. The lowest achieving student at Harvard is still an extraordinary student, but they will struggle when they see their peers achieving more than they are able to and that can be very damaging. Perhaps they would’ve been better of going to a smaller name school where they would be top of the class and be exposed to more opportunities. So if you don’t end up at your dream school, you might be better off in the long run.

– Emre Yurtbay, Rice University, Expected Class of 2020 – Major in Statistics

These admissions officers want to make sure these students care about their future, care about their community, care about what they can do at their school.

– Aliya Popatia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Class of 2009 – B.S. in Art and Design, Architecture

It is OK to be stressed up to a certain level. Realize that some of it is not in your control, and that’s OK. Take charge of what is in your control and do everything you can. Don’t let the thought of rejection stop you from putting in the work necessary to fulfill your dreams.

– Mubeen Mandani, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Class of 2014 – Biology/Pre-Medicine; Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, Expected Class of 2021

I know it’s hard to ignore the noise and the stress but it’s one of those experiences that almost everyone goes through. This process will teach you a lot about yourself. And even if things don’t work out how you want them to, they may still work out in your favor. Where you go matters, but what you make of it matters more. Plus, I didn’t get into any of the colleges I wanted to go to. I didn’t even consider going to UCLA at first. I remember bawling when I got my last rejection, this time from Duke (which was my top choice). My mom tried to reassure me that it would work out. But honestly, I was just a teenager who didn’t see the big picture, so her telling me that made me mad. Needless to say, she was right. Here I am, a 24-year-old UCLA alumna. A proud UCLA alumna.

– Naheed Rajwani, University of California, Los Angeles, Class of 2014 – B.A. in Political Science and Government, Minor in Middle Eastern and African Studies

First, don’t compare yourself to your classmates. Everyone works at a different pace and some people may be done with their applications before you. Start early to avoid procrastination and allow enough time for people to proofread your personal statements. Second, it’s okay to take a break. If you’re having writer’s block trying to write out your personal statement instead of staring at your computer idly, take a break without feeling guilty and come back to work when you’re feeling more productive. Finally, it’s easy to get lost in the statistics colleges provide for their last entering class and get discouraged. Just remember it’s an average. Not everyone has the perfect grades and a lengthy list of extracurricular activities.

– Yasmeen Lakhani, University of California, Irvine, Class of 2011 – B.S. in Biological Sciences; Southern California College of Optometry, Class of 2015 – Doctorate of Optometry (O.D.)

What should I write about in my essays and who should I have edit them?

Write about something you feel properly represents yourself. Then, have three people read your essays. Then pick one who can edit, reflect, and retain your identity and voice. Make sure to ask an older friend who has applied to colleges.

– Alif Khalfan, Stanford University, Class of 2008 – B.S. in Computer Science

Your essay should be only some YOU could write. It it’s not personal enough, it’ll get forgotten for better ones. The voice should be your voice, not too formal so your personality can shine.

– Emre Yurtbay, Rice University, Expected Class of 2020 – Major in Statistics

I compare myself to my classmates often. This almost makes me feel like I am not worth a spot at John Hopkins (my first choice). What should I do about this?

Comparing yourself to others doesn’t really help anybody. It’ll only make you more stressed. When colleges look at your application, the top colleges aren’t looking at you as a number or score. They’re trying to get a picture of you. I have seen people who have been accepted in Harvard, Stanford, and MIT who don’t have perfect GPAs and standardized test scores. What makes them stand out is their identity. The best place to communicate your identity is through your essays.

– Alif Khalfan, Stanford University, Class of 2008 – B.S. in Computer Science

If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else has a reason to.

– Aliya Popatia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Class of 2009 – B.S. in Art and Design, Architecture

Apply anyways! Colleges look for a variety of things, and you don’t know what each college is looking for unless you apply. Just try your best and apply. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t get in. But, chances are you might get in. You won’t know unless you apply.

– Mubeen Mandani, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Class of 2014 – Biology/Pre-Medicine; Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, Expected Class of 2021

How many schools is a good amount to apply to?

More and more, some people are applying to more schools. I personally applied to 12. I met one of my students who just graduated. She applied to 32 schools. Another is about to be a senior and her current list is 30. Another student is 5. There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s really up to the person. There’s not stigma, meaning the person shouldn’t feel bad because it’s ultimately their life.

– Alif Khalfan, Stanford University, Class of 2008 – B.S. in Computer Science

I applied to 12 schools but should’ve done more. It really doesn’t take too much extra time because the common app is so accessible.

– Emre Yurtbay, Rice University, Expected Class of 2020 – Major in Statistics

Who do I ask to write my letters of recommendation? My AP US History teacher knows me well and likes me a lot, but my AP Biology teacher teaches the subject that I want to major in.

Ask people who know you really well. Going back to the identity theme, you want to go tot he leader who knows you best, who thinks you’re amazing, and who can really communicate who you are as a person. In your case, you should pick the AP US History teacher over the AP Biology teacher because they know me better.

– Alif Khalfan, Stanford University, Class of 2008 – B.S. in Computer Science

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Amin Ladhani
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Amin Ladhani is a writer for Affinity Magazine and the assistant manager of Joe’s Tobacco & Convenience Store. He has worked at Kumon and volunteers as a teacher for a religious education class. In addition to his severe Starbucks addiction, he is a food enthusiast, Netflix aficionado, and LGBT+ rights activist who wishes to pursue a medical degree in the near future. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram: @aminee810.

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