Why applying to college is so confusing


Choosing which college to apply to, and which subject to major in, is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make in your life. After all, it could determine your future career and potential success – so it’s no wonder that it’s such a stress. The whole process could stand to be a lot more simple too; it certainly is pretty confusing!

Applicant anxiety

Just a quick perusal on Google will illustrate just how terrifying students are about the college application process. There are so many sites and messages boards dedicated to asking questions about college essay etiquette, their chances of getting into specific schools, and advice on where to apply. There are websites offering seminars about the secrets of the admissions officers that attracts many anxious applicants. The worry is real!

College confusion

Part of the issue comes from the fact that the application process differs slightly between colleges. Some schools will look solely at grades and accept any applicant that reaches their standards, whereas others will rely a lot more on the essay content and extracurricular activities that an applicant shows. There is no surefire formula that will guarantee anyone a place at any college, so it is no wonder that the potential students are so confused!

Other elements

Some colleges ask very vague questions of their applications, such as Harvard’s ‘What sort of human being will you be in the future?’. The University of California, on the other hand, lists a desirable characteristic as ‘intellectual curiosity’ but does not explain exactly how this can be evaluated. A lot of colleges consider things such as the income of the applicant, difficult personal circumstances and disabilities, although they are not entirely transparent on how these affect the likelihood of someone either getting into their dream college or being rejected.

How can they make it easier?

College applications seem to be so subjective that not even admissions staff seem to be able to explain their exact criteria – it just does not seem to be a cut and dry format. The first way that it could be easier to understand is if there were guidelines published by colleges that stated what they are looking for, and exactly how much each item counts towards potential acceptance. Examples of applicant profiles that are accepted or rejected could be published, explaining what it is about each that led to that result to help students see how decisions are reached. For those that are not in the top percentage in terms of grades but are otherwise very talented and show potential, it might be useful to see how that is determined by an admissions officer. In short, there needs to be much more transparency in the process for all.

The chances are, however, that this is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. It adds confusion and frustration to an already difficult period in a young person’s life, but for now, that is just the way the process is. All we can do is read up as much as possible, and follow our hearts, trusting that whatever happens is what is right for us.