There is a new culture of panic and stress among students applying to college. Here's the reason why.
Long gone are the days when getting accepted to an Ivy League college was enough; now, welcome a time when getting accepted to all eight ivies is the new benchmark of success. Students are facing pressure -- from friends, family, and society -- to get accepted to as many "top" colleges as possible. And each year, more and more students are entering this stressful race with hopes of receiving an increased number of acceptances.
So, how did we get here?
The pressure to go to college is nothing new. For years, the additional degree has been correlated to economic mobility and lifelong happiness, resulting in a big push for college among schools, organizations, politicians, family, and friends. However, within the last decade, the focus shifted to going to "top" colleges with hopes to maximize (and even expedite) career and life success. Yet, as more and more students aim for top colleges each year, that is also becoming not enough to stand out.
Now, students are adding scorecards to the college admissions process.
More than ever before, I am hearing from students tracking their number of acceptances to the country's highest ranked colleges with goals to get into as many top colleges as possible--to out-do their peers, to be the next "accepted to all eight ivies" headline in the papers. Columbia University's former Dean of Admissions, Drusilla Blackman, recently noted this trend.
However, this is one scenario the rules of probability are not at play: College admission is a process of quality not quantity. Applying to more colleges does not guarantee more acceptances. Instead, it may do the opposite.
As students apply to more colleges, two things will occur: First, colleges' acceptance rates will continue to sink to record lows, as each top college receives more and more applications each year (and the number of available spots remain the same). Second, the quality of students' applications will diminish for every college they add, as each college application requires hours of additional questions, forms, and essays to complete.
Just a few years ago, for example, students applied to only a handful of colleges, usually around six. Now, however, I frequently hear from students applying to 20 or more colleges--a near impossible (and unnecessary!) number of colleges to apply to before the deadlines.
So what's the solution?
Students should only apply to colleges that are true fits to their needs, interests, and personality, and they should block out any pressure by friends, family, and society to "tally" acceptances to top colleges.
Additionally, it is also the responsibility of friends, family, and society to foster a positive, supportive environment for students that emphasizes happiness and health--diminishing stress and pressure to take unnecessary steps through the college admissions process.
As much as possible, students should block out other students throughout the process, as a focus on other students' applications and results are toxic to one's own success. By blocking this out, students can focus on building a college list that will ensure their own personal happiness, along with completing applications that are unique and different from their peers.
Remember, you can only attend one college; any others (whether accepted or denied) will be forgotten by others in weeks after the process ends. Thus, you should ensure the one college you attend will be a truly remarkable experience.
However, the reversal of this trend is unlikely to occur anytime soon.
For the near future, at the least, students will be forced into the new college admissions race to secure a spot at a college, especially a college that is highly ranked and regarded.
Chase Staub is affiliated with The Ivy Dean, an independent college admissions consulting firm.