In Progress

Helen Xia,

CHS Student Writer

My head hurts. Don’t worry, I’m not sick. I’m just applying to college. (It does seem like a lot of us are falling ill, though.) It’s the era of college applications, which means millions of students are working strenuously, pouring their hearts out into their essays and anticipating one common thing: the decision letter.

Colleges are getting increasingly more selective, calling for more work for potentially less results. Students across the globe have felt this strain. According to a report by Common App, “Total application volume through March 15 rose 21.3% from 2019–20 (5,477,465) to 2021–22 (6,644,028).”

With so many more students applying each year and the same number of seats available, acceptance rates—especially at the nation’s highest-ranked institutions—are steadily declining.

To combat the unpredictability of college applications, students are applying to more schools. As explained by the Common App, “Applicants are applying to more members, on average, in 2021–22 than in 2019–20.”

It seems like a perpetual cycle at this point, where acceptance rates keep plummeting, so students keep applying to more institutions, which causes the acceptance rates to keep plummeting.

Perhaps the most notorious example of colleges denying most of their applicants is Harvard College. (I fondly call that school Hard-vard.) For the Class of 2027, Harvard received nearly 57,000 applications. To put that in perspective, Mount St. Mary’s University received 9,240 applications in 2021. The Mount accepted applications from 7,554 individuals. Can you guess how many Harvard accepted? If you guessed less than 2,000, you’d be correct! (The number sits at precisely 1,966.)

You may be surprised to learn that the number of applications received by Harvard and the University of Maryland are very similar, both boasting just under 57,000 submissions. Of course, Maryland accepts almost ten times the number of students as Harvard, so they’re not the most comparable in that regard. What is comparable between them is the emotions of the Class of 2024 as we grind tirelessly through our applications.

Going through a bit of a slump myself, I decided to ask a few of my peers about how they felt about their applications.

“Well, I was in control [of my applications],” a senior said. He has already applied to a few schools, which, as of the time I’m typing this, is very quick. “I was chilling for some time, and then my viola teacher added two music schools to my list, and now I’m not in control [anymore].”

That’s practically how I feel, except I don’t think I was ever completely in control of my applications.

“[I feel] sad,” another replied. She’s busy retaking exams to submit to colleges. “I believe people should be able to get education if they want it and not have to [take] tests in order to get into a good education system.”

“It feels weird,” a third student shared. “It feels like I’m selling myself out as a product. It feels like I’m advertising myself, but I’m the one who’s paying to attend their school. I’m not even an adult yet, but I’m expected to have my future figured out.”

Now, college is a topic widely discussed throughout the grade. Scrambling to get recommendation letters, navigating the finicky college website we have to use, and trying to speak positively of ourselves without sounding arrogant, these are all newfound challenges that dedicated Catoctin High School staff are guiding us through. Because of how stressful this experience tends to be, this time of year brings out some controversial opinions about further education. Here are a few I’ve heard:

“College is a scam.”

“Where you go to college doesn’t really matter. More or less, all schools are the same.”

“College should be free.”

“The grades you get in college don’t really matter, as long as you graduate. The diploma you get stays the same.”

“College applications and standardized testing are just elitism games, not a measure of intelligence.”

Regardless of the numerous complaints and perspectives we may have, it seems that those fail to stop us from putting our best foot forward in this tedious process. From what I’m observing, we are nervous and exhausted, but we are driven. I’m confident that the Class of 2024 will make it out stronger than we started—we always do.

As for me, I feel the same as basically everyone else: tired. There’s a lot going on and too little time to fully comprehend it all. It’s draining for the teachers involved as well. I’ve heard of teachers writing twenty or so individualized letters of recommendation for students, which is something not in their job description. In other words, they don’t get compensated for the extra time and effort they put into crafting these letters. Bear in mind that for each student, teachers refer to a lengthy survey (known as a “Senior Brag Sheet”) to pick out specific qualities of their students to speak about. That’s a lot of work in very little time!

The most important element throughout applying for college is, in my opinion, respect. As is evident from what I discussed earlier, teachers and staff deserve so much respect for everything they willingly sacrifice for their students. Additionally, during this time, the mutual respect most students and staff have for each other is apparent. Such relationships are necessary for effective communication in times like this.

Don’t forget, it’s essential for students to respect themselves, too. Again, college requires a lot of work, even before stepping onto campus. No matter what one’s grades and accomplishments are, college admission is never guaranteed. With colleges becoming so competitive, it’s critical for students (and guardians) to remember that their self-worth is not tied to an academic institution.

A notion I agree with is that it doesn’t matter too much where exactly you go to school, as long as you make the most of wherever you are. Just be a positive force, and you’ll radiate wherever you go. Remember: In a couple of months, it’ll all be over! (I’ve heard that’s when senioritis really kicks in…)

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