For many high school students, the college application process is in full swing with many early action deadlines around the corner. No matter how many schools one is applying to, the added stress during senior year can be hard to digest.
According to Jennifer Beros, associate head of school and director of college counseling at University School in Hunting Valley, and Renee Bischoff, director of college counseling at Hawken School’s Upper School in Chester Township, students feel the stress of applying because it represents a major life change on top of their already busy lives.
“The college application process puts a lot more demands on students in terms of the actual work they have to do,” Bischoff said. “The biggest issue is the timeline. It’s almost like the equivalent of having another class. Not everyone is a type-A person who gets things done in advance. Most kids are in the middle. (College application questions) can be big questions that most of their academic work has not prepared them for.”
Beros said it is also due to students having full schedules outside of school, too.
“No matter when you start it, this time can creep up on you a bit,” she explained. “People feel a lot of stress because they feel like they have to boil themselves down to what fits on the application.”
Knowing you want to go to college is the first step. Beros said additional stress comes in the next step – figuring out what to study.
“There are a lot of expectations on students knowing what they want to do and where they want to go,” she said. “But the reality is not every 18 year old knows that with certainty. Not knowing where you want to go or what you want to study can be stressful. It’s that sort of constant question or reference to it that can feel very overwhelming for a lot of kids.”
To lighten the load, high schools task their college counselors to be the added support for students pursuing higher education.
At Hawken School, Bischoff said students can connect with their college counselor whenever they have questions. Students are put in groups of 35 students to one counselor, a ratio that Bischoff said is “very lucky.”
“We have classes that walk them through the testing process and applications during their junior year,” she stated. “In their senior year, there is another class, but we also work one-on-one with students during the actual application and essay process. We also do work in supporting athletic recruits. We do everything from soup to nuts.”
These offerings are important to Hawken School’s counseling center for several reasons.
“Our office believes more than anything that we’re responsible for the growth and development of students as they go off to college,” Bischoff explained. “This is a process of enabling confidence. What can be hard about college applications is having someone who doesn’t know you place value on you and see if you’re good enough. That is the humbling and scary part, getting them over that bridge.”
For University School, students are also exposed to the college application process in their junior year.
“So, some of the things that students could be struggling with in other schools, our students have already talked about it and they’ve had practice,” Beros said. “Also, we have something called boot camps where kids can come in (during the summer) when there aren’t classes and focus on and explore these changes. It’s about carving out some time to focus on this ahead of time instead of the last minute.”
While many students may feel prepared for these changes, Beros added they shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help.
“A lot of our students are super capable and wonderful, but this isn’t a process that they’ve done before,” she said. “All your questions are super valid. This is a big life change, so you should feel like you can ask questions and ask for help because you want to make the best decision you can.”