Finished college apps or are they finishing you? How students cope with senior year stress

Picture from author.

A popular song among high school students today is pop icon Taylor Swift’s hit, “Cruel Summer.” Amidst Swift’s catchy lyrics, some students might recognize the line, “You say that we’ll just screw it up in these trying times; we’re not trying.” Many high schoolers, though, find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum: trying but in constant fear of screwing up. This especially holds true in the case of high school seniors, many of whom take on the trying and often overwhelming task of completing college applications. Students also tend to be in different places in the process, which only adds to the stress as this makes it difficult to compare one’s situation with others: while some might be submitting early applications, for example, others may not have started at all. Regardless of where one is in the process of college applications, the challenges of senior year are a major stressor for high schoolers. In response to this pressure, seniors Catalina Gil and Ridhanya Sakthivel share their thoughts on college applications, as well as their methods for handling the stress that comes with it.

Both seniors agree that the process can be daunting at first, and even as one works their way through it, it is not uncommon to run into challenges. Ridhanya describes her experience and frustrations as, in her case, there turned out to be more work involved that she was previously not aware of. It raises the question, then, of how well students are prepared ahead of time for college applications. In Ridhanya’s opinion, no one “is informed or prepared, actually, because how can you become an expert in college apps if you’ve never done it before and have no one to help you? Suddenly you just have to do it yourself.” 

There is quite a lot of pressure on students completing college applications, therefore, since many feel that they aren’t given enough information prior to beginning and are unsure of where to go to seek out help. This feeling of being alone in the process is not unusual among seniors; Catalina, similarly, feels that others do not understand the stress that students experience during senior year. In her eyes, junior year is more well-known (or perhaps infamous) for the pressure it places on students, while “for the senior class it’s just normalized. People think our age group already knows how to handle it so we’re expected to handle it on our own.” The weight of these expectations can be quite crushing for some, however, and is only made worse by the prospect of having to carry them out with little to no guidance. 

This pressure that is placed upon seniors to make often life-shaping decisions can take a negative toll on their mental health, especially with the increasingly competitive nature of college admissions. Catalina and Ridhanya describe how, for them, this sometimes leads to increased feelings of tiredness or exhaustion from burnout, and in turn, reduced motivation for schoolwork (senioritis, if you will). Despite this, however, the two find different strategies that make the stress of senior year more manageable, including activities such as making art, cooking, listening to music, and getting exercise and a sufficient amount of sleep (though the latter is perhaps a topic for another day); alternatively, stress-relieving activities can also be things that are very specific to the individual, like reading webcomics, shopping, or according to Ridhanya, watching comfort TV shows like My Little Pony. Whatever the strategy may be, it is important that students make some time to care for themselves and handle their stress in a healthy way. 

Besides coping strategies that students employ to manage their stress, one might also question whether or not the college admissions process could be modified to prioritize students’ mental health. One thing that Catalina thinks should be changed is that currently there are a lot of “stereotype[s] about what is considered to be good writing versus bad writing in college essays. I feel like it should be something personal and thus it should be something emotional, and emotional writing doesn’t always equal ‘good’ writing” by perceived standards. Having more freedom in the writing style, then, might help to relieve stress for students so that there is less pressure to conform to certain standards, thus giving students more flexibility in the process.

Until then, the state of the situation remains that college applications can be long and arduous, and often mentally draining. With appropriate coping strategies, however, the mental strain involved can become more manageable. Aside from the methods that Ridhanya and Catalina suggest, they also offer advice for future seniors: both students highly recommend that underclassmen begin researching and preparing for college applications ahead of time so that there is less of a time crunch later on. Ridhanya acknowledges that this might be difficult in junior year especially because of the workload, but recommends that students make time during the summer before senior year— “The further [in advance] you do your applications,” she explains, “the more work you realize you have. And it can get stressful because you also have school, so setting deadlines and planning ahead and researching is really important.”

 Being diligent and organized from the get-go is important, but the two also recognize the need for self-care during this time, as Ridhanya adds that “in order to [be able to] think about college, you need to be optimistic and know more about yourself.” All in all, then, it is important that students maintain a balance between work and play, so to speak, to prioritize their own needs and mental health. If one can accomplish this, then, to quote Taylor Swift again, “You’ve got no reason to be afraid… You can face this.”

Aaushi Singh is a senior at Washington High School. She was born in New York in the borough of Queens, but moved to Fremont early in life and has lived there ever since. This will be her first year at the Hatchet, where she hopes to cover topics such as art, mental health, and music. Aaushi’s hobbies consist of reading, making art, and writing. Although unsure of her future plans, Aaushi is considering studying architecture or civil engineering.

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