Applying to college: the bane of every high school senior’s existence. The deadlines, the countless essays, and the standardized tests. Weighing your odds at various schools, hoping you are accepted to the ones you want. In any normal year, this would be enough to cause extreme anxiety, even for those not prone to it. But in a year when nothing is normal, the college process for the seniors of 2021 was anything but relaxed. The cancellation of testing along with a number of schools that went test-optional for this application year were the first signs of the unique situation high school seniors found themselves in this year. While the lack of testing might have been a blessing for some, others were left to piece together their applications with just their essays, their school grades, and extracurriculars, which suddenly held more weight than ever before. Hoping that those would be enough, they were then faced with a record-breaking number of applicants at top colleges due to these test-optional policies. According to CNBC, Harvard University applications were up 57% from last year and Yale University applications were up 38%. But students’ problems didn’t stop there. Because of this increase in applications, the acceptance rates fell dramatically. According to CBS News, Harvard’s acceptance rate went from 4.9% last year to 3.4% this year and Columbia’s went from 6.1% to 3.7%. Students were left to hope, more than any other year, that the odds would be in their favor, second-guessing every decision they made. As one 2021 Ridgewood high school senior put it, “It’s straining with how much you worry about the things you’ve done wrong or missed. Sure, getting it all done on time and “perfectly” is hard enough, but then once that’s done, it’s shaped into worry about everything you could’ve done wrong or differently, or even things you didn’t even consider.”
The majority of admissions decisions were released at the end of March through the beginning of April, and students have only a month to decide which school they want to attend. And, because most campus tours were suspended last March, many students will have to make their decision without even setting foot on campus. While many colleges and universities have offered virtual tours and online information sessions, it is still almost impossible to get the feel of a school without actually being there. “I did my first college tour the second week of April and my second one just this week [April 15th]. I have to commit in two weeks. It’s hard not knowing exactly what you’re signing up for and not even getting a full chance to see everything before you go” another senior said.
But despite the added COVID-related stress and anxiety on the college process and the unprecedented senior year many of these students have had, they still have hope for the future. “Personally, undergoing the college process was mentally strenuous in many ways, especially due to the unique environment of COVID-19. Although the time spent preparing applications and organizing information was certainly stressful, I am excited that my hard work has paid off, and I look forward to what the college experience has to offer.” For Mental Health Resources at the High School visit https://sites.google.com/ridgewood.k12.nj.us/schoolbasedmentalhealth/home.
Laila DiNovo & Maya Ramasamy
Graphic: Zoe Kovac