Does Applying To College Have To Be So Stressful?

I am thinking of proposing a new psychological diagnosis: CASD, which stands for College Admissions Stress Disorder. I became a college admissions counselor after 20-years of treating teens with anxiety. As a psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety, many high school students are brought to my office by their parents because they “need treatment for anxiety”. It often turns out that these students do not need treatment for anxiety. What they need is a road map to the college admissions process and some rational thinking to counteract the college admissions frenzy.

When you look at the skyrocketing number of college applications and plummeting rates of admissions at “top colleges”, the picture is horrifying. However, those numbers are being blown up by the top 5% of students who are applying to an astronomical number of schools. For example, at LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, NJ, students apply to an average of 45 colleges, with one student applying to 70 colleges. But it is important to remember that a student who applies to 45, or 70, schools can only go to one of those schools. In fact, the majority of colleges in this country admit the majority of students who apply.

Many students try to beat the college admissions odds by applying to a scattershot of a huge number of colleges. Using an online college matching tool, they enter their GPA and test scores and receive a list of schools that are a “match”. However, students are more than GPA’s and test scores, and colleges are more than the average GPA’s and test scores of their admitted students. Both students and colleges have personalities. What might be a good match on paper can be a mismatch of personalities.

When I counsel my high school clients, I work to create a list of colleges that will be a good fit for their personality. Like Cinderella’s step-sisters, there is no point in trying to cram your foot into a glass slipper that doesn’t fit. I encourage student and parents to really get to know the schools, and to really think about whether that school will be a good fit. I help my clients to not be seduced by the shiny baubles of “top” schools.

In an interview with CNN, former Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses some of the factors that are contributing to the current stressful college application climate: