With college application season at hand, students are overwhelmed by pressure
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College. The very idea hangs over the head of every BSM student. It’s in our mission; we’re a “college preparatory school,” and the pressure to attend an elite college starts freshman year for students, ballooning into an inescapable factor senior year. With this pressure comes a lot of expectations to succeed in every aspect of the college process.
All of these factors create the aura of stress surrounding college and breed resentment for the process. “I hate the ACT. It doesn’t show anything about your experience throughout high school at all; it’s just a measure of how well you could pay attention for one day for four hours of your life,” said senior Rachel Zierden. Feeling the need to do well on these tests and concoct the perfect application pressures students into nearly unmanageable stress.
Considering the external pressure to succeed, many students are turning to elite schools, rather than local, less costly state schools. For example, senior Sage Fulco is applying to a range of prestigious universities, including Stanford, Yale, and Princeton. “I really wanted to find a place that was highly competitive and selective,” said Fulco.
Many students are going to great lengths to ensure that they qualify for these highly selective institutions. “We see more and more students preparing for the ACT and/or SAT throughout junior and senior years; doing classroom courses, online courses, one-on-one tutoring, taking multiple practice tests,” said Ms. Amanda Andersen, one of BSM’s three college counselors.
One of these students is senior Kathy Marinelli, who uses a college tutor to help her with the essay writing process. “It’s just nice to have somebody sit with me and look through it and make sure my essay is actually that good. I thought that was going to be the only part of my application that was going to be faulty, so I wanted to have someone to make sure it was actually good,” said Marinelli.
Marinelli, like Fulco and many others, is applying to many out-of-state institutions. The search for success makes many students feel that they need to apply to more reputable institutions, which may mean leaving the state, paying higher tuition costs, or looking down on less-known schools.
In the past few years, BSM students have started to attend colleges in more distant parts of the country. According to the BSM website, only 28 percent of students in the class of 2012, attended universities in Minnesota. In that same graduating class, only 47 percent of the student body attended a public institution. “There is a competitive pressure. Between school, parents, and the community–not just at BSM–names are huge for parents and students,” said counselor Amy Larson.
There are several areas from which the pressure to attend an elite school springs. The desire to go to a prestigious school can form as a facet of self-confidence: feeling proud because of your acceptance or attendance at big name schools. For some students, it’s about fulfilling a dream. “A lot of people grow up imagining the jobs that they’ll have in the future, I grew up imagining going to one of these amazing colleges,” Fulco said.
Sometimes the pressure comes from family, with parents encouraging their children to strive for only what they see as “the best,” and sometimes viewing public institutions as lesser. “Don’t listen to everyone… I hate hearing people talk about colleges and big names. It’s mostly misinformation, especially with parents,” Ms. Larson said.
Ms. Andersen shares these sentiments. “I like to remind students and parents that this is not a game to be won, but rather a fit to be made. Students should not be looking at colleges that are not going to be a good fit for them,” said Ms. Andersen.
Not everyone feels the pressure to attend a prestigious school, such as senior Julia Krieger, who is breaking the pattern. “At first when I was looking, I went to look at schools that have a really well-known name, that are automatically recognized as a good school. So I visited a couple of those and wasn’t impressed with them. It really wasn’t the right place for me, so I kind of had to reevaluate my search,” Krieger said. She is now looking into state schools such the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
Krieger, who is an exemplary student, has received mixed feedback in her choice to attend a less prestigious school despite her outstanding qualifications. “There’s the people who feel like they know me as a student, know my ‘potential’ and will say ‘Oh…You can do better than that. Have you thought of any better schools? That would be a good backup for you. You could do so much better.’ Apparently if you work hard in school, you’re crazy if you don’t want to go to an Ivy League school.”
There are benefits to attending any type of school, but also definite limitations. When preparing for the application process, tutors, study aids, and practice tests can easily add up to hundreds of dollars. Add in the cost of taking the actual ACT or SAT as well as application costs, and a significant amount of money has been spent before even being accepted to a school, private or public.
Cost is an important consideration for anyone applying to universities. With such a push for higher-class institutions, students are attending costlier schools than their public counterparts. “A huge part of college has become the money, and all the big name schools, in the end, they’re gonna cost you a quarter of a million dollars to go there, and that’s just insane,” said Fulco.
Balancing all of these factors while trying to decide could drive anyone crazy. What really matters is the pros and cons of each type of school, and how it fits into your life. “There are so many schools out there––over 4,000. There are many colleges where students can and will be happy. There is not only one, perfect choice. Students sometimes get hung up on finding the perfect school. There is no perfect school, however, the more investigating they do about their interests and the colleges, the better off they will be in finding a good fit for them,” Ms. Anderson said.