The Monthly Hollumn: Stepping back from college stress & learning to breathe


By Holly Parkin

oesn’t matter whether you’re a senior caught in the height of application season or a sophomore who’s just taken the PSAT — everything in life seems to revolve around that one loathed topic. “So, where are you applying?” adults ask. “How far have you gotten on your essays?” ask my peers. “Are you applying Early Action?” Or for the younger generation — “Have you signed up for the SAT yet?” “What schools are you planning on visiting?”
Every conversation I have with another student quickly devolves into yet another effort at small talk that leaves us both feeling stressed out and angry at the North American education system. You can see it on their faces — the pained smile beneath those dark wrinkles under their eyes as they say “Well, I’ve still got six deadlines and four essays left, plus my varsity sport after school and community service on Thursdays, but I’m feeling pretty on top of it!” Sure.
Maybe we students just spend so much time with our eyes glued to the Common App homepage or talking to our parents about how our essays are coming along that our brains have been hardwired to think about nothing else. Except, of course, for the continuous stream of homework our teachers dutifully provide each week. So naturally, we’re inclined to discuss it with our peers.
But resorting to college talk as casual banter does nothing to reinforce a positive overview from students on the whole process. It only perpetuates the stress that we already feel, especially when there’s that one student who likes to brag about how they’ve finished all their essays when you complain that you’re falling dangerously far behind schedule. (“Oh, you haven’t finished your Common App essay yet? You should have done it over the summer, like me!”)
College applications are not a competition — or at least, we need to stop treating them like one. If we were all a little bit more supportive of each other during this stressful period, instead of acting like each one of us is the only one who has to write an essay, this whole college thing might be a little less horrible.
There are plenty of other things to discuss besides tests and applications, similar to how there are plenty of other things to do than worry about college all the time. Maybe just once, you can take a night off from studying for the SAT and go out with your friends. When in this kind of situation, I find that it helps to imagine the spirit of Parks and Rec’s Aziz Ansari appearing before me, speaking his famous and divine words: “Treat yo self.” Maybe we all need to treat ourselves a little bit more and stop overstressing about college. There is a place out there for everyone. Spending one night with your friends instead of the Fiske Guide for College isn’t going to make or break your chances of getting into an Ivy League school.
If you have the drive to go to college after high school, you will get there somehow. Even if you don’t get into your top school, the general consensus seems to be that most people are so relieved to be out of high school that college just feels miles better by comparison. There’s no use losing sleep, losing your mind, or boring your friends to tears over a subject that neither of you really want to discuss anyway.
Obviously, planning for a life after high school is important. Whether that’s going to college, taking a gap year, or getting a job, it’s something that needs to be considered in due time. But is it really necessary to let it take over our entire lives? For many students, especially upperclassmen, these are the last few years we will ever have a chance to spend with each other in such a close environment.
I don’t want to waste time that could be spent sharing laughs and good times with my friends by talking about letters of rec or how many days before the deadline to submit an application.
Save the tireless college talk for your parents over dinner or your counselor — they probably care a lot more about your opinions on the UC application than your friends do, anyway. Why are we making the already difficult task of small talk even more grueling? These days, when the only topic that dominates idle small talk is what deadlines you still have left, I think I’d rather just talk about the weather.