The Truth About Stress and the College Process: Who’s Really to Blame?


College applications: my favorite thing to put-off on a given weeknight. You know those little kid games that show an image of someone playing basketball with a soccer ball with the caption What’s wrong with this picture? Well, that’s kind of what senior fall feels like: All the colors, perfectly cool weather, college apps, and the ability to finally pull down my sweaters from the shelf in my closet. What’s wrong with this picture?

I know all that we seniors seem to talk and think about is college, and I hate to be that person that won’t stop talking about it, but I’m going to be that person right now, because seriously, we need to stop talking about college.

For high school students, not just seniors, but younger students as well, college is the ultimate stressor. Everything else — a bad grade, an assignment on the horizon, not being apart of this or that club, etc. — is only stressful because of that looming shadow, that ever-burdensome weight of college. And we, the student-body, pay lip service to the idea that someone, anyone other than ourselves is to blame for this stress: whether it’s the college counselling office, our teachers, or our parents. 

The above parties certainly play stress-creating roles, but at the same time, isn’t that their jobs? The college office is the obvious scapegoat; it’s in the name and everything! However, it’s even more silly to blame them because it is quite literally the job of the college office to talk to us about college. It’s hardly their fault for doing so. 

We complain that teachers give too much work, but then also complain if a teacher doesn’t give enough work. Both of these arguments make sense by themselves — who wants to be doing a ton of work that could theoretically soil your transcript? On the flip side, if we don’t have a ton of work, what are we being graded on? How can we redeem ourselves from one bad grade if that’s the only major assignment before November 1st? Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways.

Finally, our parents. If I had to choose between one of the above three parties which most accurately is to blame, I would say our parents because the most obvious thing to blame for our behavior is our upbringing. The way we talk and act and react can be, and is, traced back to something our parents did wrong or right when we were three years old. I say this with sarcasm, though I understand the sentiment. Mostly, though, I think parents have overhyped this process since the 1970s when everyone decided to go to college. My issue with this argument, however, is that many of us are on the verge of adulthood, and some of us already are adults. One would think that with sixteen or seventeen years of life experience, we would have the agency to stop perpetuating our parents’ vices.

Has anyone ever thought to turn the tables on ourselves? Has anyone thought that maybe the student-body that bemoans the stresses of college that so loom (even though most of us chose to come to a college preparatory school) is the problem in and of itself? 

We are the ones who talk about college constantly amongst ourselves. We are the ones that create spreadsheets to record who got in where and who didn’t at all. We say, “I can’t believe she hasn’t finished her essay yet,” or “He’s applying to Harvard? I wonder if he’s doing it as a joke.” We look to see who went to which table at the college fair. We are the ones who can’t stop talking about how stressful senior fall and the college process are instead of actually being productive and hence alleviating all that stress.

So, you tell me: who is to blame? Maybe we should stop pointing fingers and just go write our supplements.

Mark Pang