College Admissions Anxiety: Just One Person’s Perspective

My thoughts on the over-scheduled, overworked, stressed-out teen begin with the age-old question: What came first, the chicken or the egg? When I look back a few decades, I see the phenomenon of both parents working outside the home starting in earnest at just about the same time public high school budgets started going haywire.  Since a typical, public, school-day is as short as 5-6 hours, working parents needed to find activities for their children after school, in the afternoons and evenings, and often, during school holidays. Many after-school businesses have emerged to fill the void.  The plethora of available activities are of critical importance to working parents, especially for public school families. 

When the first generation of kids that engaged in organized after-school and vacation activities started applying to college, they had lot of activities and adventures to report–all those blanks on the application forms were filled in.  Demographic changes (ie. the baby boomer’s boomlet plus globalization) coupled with highly-involved parents transformed what was once a merely competitive college admissions process into a nerve-racking, debt-defying, lifestyle pursuit.

I don’t see the long term problem as one of over-scheduling (any associated stress disorders and/or unhealthy family dynamics is, obviously, a problem) so much as it is one of inequity.

While many private schools have always provided a full day of academics and “enrichment”, public high school students receive the most basic of academic, athletic and arts exposure. The only language taught at the public Valhalla High School, for example, is Spanish but the private Bishop’s School offers Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, Mandarin. Though Valhalla enrolls over 2100 students, it has 23 athletic teams; Bishops, with 800 students, offers 40. The first thing I noticed when my older son transferred to a private school? Students hangout on-campus, in the library, on the fields, in the music room, till way past dinner time. At my younger son’s public school? Unless you were on a team or in a band, you weren’t at school after last period.

Most parents work outside the home.  Most students attend public not private schools. Most public schools are underfunded and overcrowded with scant attention to advising, to development of critical-thinking skills, or to job skills. Most parents do not have resources and cannot overcome their child’s inadequate educational environment.  Don’t you think we need all students to have access and exposure—to the arts, 21st century science, athletics, nature— to become fulfilled, contributing members of society?

Editor's note: Originally published in 2014. The only additional comment I would add, in 2017,  is this: college costs about 10% more now. So, admissions stress is still there. Shameless plug: call A+ for detailed analyses, the pros/cons, of your own college adventure. 

Kids Say the Darndest Things:

If you're in the college application mode, you may be cross eyed by now from reading the hundreds of college admissions blogs analyzing everything from yield ratios to rankings to Estimated Family Contribution to how-to-write-the-winning essay. For a lighthearted chuckle, I've been reading reasons students are or are not applying to various colleges from the blog at College Confidential (

Here are some of the zanier posts:

Colgate: I’m not applying to a university with the same name as a toothpaste

Emerson: I applied b/c they have a Quidditch club

Wake Forest: I didn't apply b/c I was stung by a bee on the campus tour

Yale: I applied b/c Gossip Girl wanted to go there. I got in Early Action but felt bad b/c Gossip Girl didn't.

Wesleyan: I applied b/c Yale is in the same state

Amherst: I’m not applying b/c I got lost trying to find it

Bryn Mawr: I did apply b/c I absolutely must go to a school with Gothic revival architecture

Stanford: I didn't apply b/c the buildings look like Taco Bell

Wheaton: I applied b/c I'm not a christian and I wanted to see my friends faces when I tell them I applied.

Harvard: I didn't apply b/c my dad went there; I did apply b/c my dad went there

Samford: I applied b/c if you say it fast, it sounds like Stanford

Vanderbilt: I didn't b/c when you say it with an English accent, it sounds dumb

Florida: I didn't b/c all that Spanish Moss hanging from the trees is creepy

Maine: I didn't b/c all the colleges in Maine remind me of a Stephen King novel

UMich: no way b/c have you seen the size of the squirrel population?

Purdue: I didn't b/c it reminds me of chicken

BYU: I didn't apply b/c youtube is blocked on campus

Quinnipiac: I didn't b/c the word 'Nipple' is in there somewhere

USC: I didn't b/c I could just never bring myself to yell "Go Trojans!"

Princeton: I did apply just to try and ace out our obnoxious class salutatorian

Fordham University: nope, b/c of the initials

And, finally, with the largest number of negative references on this blog of 836 comments, a sampling of why students didn't apply to Tufts University:  b/c it is reminiscent of something Dr. Seuss would write; b/c of Tufts syndrome; b/c it sounds like a circus; b/c the name sounds like hair or fur; b/c it just...sounds... gross.