Finding Sanity Amid College Application Hysteria

As a current college freshman who had her fair share of struggling to balance academics, sports, and extracurriculars in high school, I’m here to give you the honest advice nobody tells you but you’ll wish you knew.

When you Google “Advice for Applying to College,” you’ll see ads for “College Admissions Counseling” and articles titled “10 College Application Tips You Need to Know.” These are great, but chances are you already knew that deadlines are important and essays should be spell checked.

As a current college freshman who had her fair share of struggling to balance academics, sports, and extracurriculars in high school, I’m here to give you the honest advice nobody tells you but you’ll wish you knew.

And when I say “you,” I don’t just mean incoming high school seniors. This is an open letter to students of all ages and their parents — even though you both care and want what’s best for each other, I know it can be hard to communicate those feelings. So, I polled about 50 current high school and college students to put these feelings into words for you — no summarizing, just raw emotions and straightforward thoughts.


Dear Parents,

To start, I’d like to thank you for everything you have done and continue to do for me. Thank you for all the car rides to school and sports practices, meals you cook, shelter you provide, and love you give me. I know I probably don’t express my gratitude as often as I should, but I wanted to share that I appreciate and love you guys very much. But there are some things that I wished I had told you during college applications. 

Here’s a list of some of the key statements:

  • “I know that I have a lot to do and I can’t focus with you guys breathing down my neck. It’s hard to balance out everything with school and college apps, and I would appreciate it if you guys gave me my own space and time to do things on my own. I’m trying to be responsible in my academics, but it’s stressful and draining when you constantly tell me that I have to try harder or do better than I already am.” - J
  • “Admissions is competitive, be open minded and not too focused on prestige.” - J
  • “I understand that having your kids leave is hard, but sometimes it is just a choice that they have to make. They won’t forget you and will always love you.” - J
  • “Please be patient with me. I’m doing my best to juggle applications, essays, scholarships.” - A
  • “Please stop asking me where other people are applying and getting in.” - A
  • “That extra test score really didn’t matter - especially not at the cost of mental health.” - K
  • “Please give me my space and time if possible. I will have all the tasks done! Trust me. :)” - T
  • “Please be more considerate of the stress that college apps can have on students.” - A
  • “Quality over quantity. Doing 26 college applications is impractical and exhausting.” - A

These were just some of the highlights. Of the responses received there were certainly common themes which I’ve graphed below: 

“I’m doing the best that I can” was basically my motto throughout high school whenever I had ~moments~ with my parents. And I’ll be honest, the execution of this sentence ranged from a calm, quiet tone to me yelling across the house and slamming my bedroom door shut.

Everybody’s “best” looks different depending on the person, the day, and even the hour. Just because one day your child is able to get all of their homework done early and get a reasonable amount of sleep doesn’t mean that the next day will be the same. Maybe they had a rough day at school or got into a fight with a friend; try to put yourself in their shoes and respect that sometimes their “best” for the day might just look like taking a long nap and watching Netflix for a few hours to recharge themselves. 

If they shut themselves in their room, it’s not because they don’t love you or aren’t grateful for everything you do for them; they just need some time for themselves. Personally, I spend time alone if I know I’m not in the best mood to prevent myself from lashing out at others and potentially hurting their feelings or saying something I don’t mean. Everybody copes with their emotions differently, but however they do, typically the best support you can provide is letting them know that whatever they’re feeling is valid.

Parents, your children are trying the best that they can. Due to the stress from school that’s already weighing us down, the state of our mental health is fragile and any small or large negative remark has the potential to push us past our breaking point. We need rest in order to perform well, so the next time you see your child taking a break, let them know that you’re proud of how hard they’ve been working rather than berating them for not studying at that instant.

Let’s do another open letter, but this time, let’s look at some of the things your kids wished that you had verbalized to them.


Dear Child,

I love you so much and want nothing but the best for you. I am so proud of you and how far you’ve come. You continue to impress me every day and I wish for you to have everything you need and desire in life. I know I’m hard on you sometimes, but it’s because I want to make sure you have everything you need to be happy. 

Additionally, here are the words that students wished their parents had said to them:

  • “We believe in you!” - K
  • “You’re worthy. Whatever the outcome, I am forever here for you and I am proud of you.” - A
  • “Make the choice that you feel in your gut is right and all will work out in the end.” - J
  • “It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t get in to your top choices!” - F
  • “Fill out the scholarships...even if it’s tiring now, it will help in the future.” - L
  • “When the going gets rough, we’re here for you.” - C

Those were just some of the highlights. Of the responses received here were the common themes:


You have value, you are loved, you are appreciated, and we are proud of you. Regardless of whether you get into your top choice, last choice, unexpected choice, or decide college is not for you at this time (or ever), your parents love you. We just want what’s best for you and sometimes we express that in unusual ways. But no matter what, you are our child and we will support whatever you do in life.

Finally, one last open letter. There were things we all wished our past selves had known. Here’s an open letter to the high school senior that I once knew.


Dear Me (as a high school senior),

Hey there, buddy, I’m future you. I know times are tough right now and sometimes it feels like there’s nobody in the world who understands what you’re going through, but I’m here to let you know that you make it. It’s not easy, I’ll admit — you’ll experience a fair share of all-nighters, unreasonably difficult tests, arguments with friends, teachers, coaches, and parents, and sometimes more. 

Nevertheless, keep your head up! Think about all the things you can look forward to and have yet to experience. As you’re walking across the field, court, or stage with loved ones on your Senior Night, walking out of class on your last day of school, and moving your tassel from right to left at graduation surrounded by some friends you’ve known since you were in elementary school, you’ll wonder where the time went. Before you know it, you’ll be saying goodbye to your parents as you move into your college dorm and are expected to live on your own for the first time in your life.

Here’s some things I would like you to keep in mind now to get a head start:

  • “Cherish everything.” - C
  • “Trust yourself! You worked hard all 4 years and you’ll be at where you’re meant to be. :))” - T
  • “Stay positive because everything happens for a reason!” - A
  • “‘Prestige’ doesn’t matter at all! An education is an education.” - A
  • “Actually apply to UCs, you never know and now you will never know.” - D
  • “Don’t start on the week/day they are due and ask friends to help earlier.” - A

Here’s the final aggregate of “things we wished we could tell our younger selves:”


It’s all about perspective. If you didn’t get into a college, rather than thinking “it’s because I wasn’t good enough and I’m not the right person they were looking for,” have the mindset that “that college wasn’t the right fit for me and there’s other places I’ll feel like I belong and am welcome.”

Also, it’s your SENIOR YEAR! This is your 13th year in school, so why not celebrate it? You’re at the top of the food chain now, so make the most of it! College apps are important, but so is living in the present and cherishing every moment you get. If we’ve learned anything from the sudden onset of COVID-19 and loss of memories, friendships, and lives, it’s that nothing is a given. At the beginning of my senior year, I never would’ve imagined a pandemic would take away my senior track season, prom, graduation, senior summer, and college freshman year. Time is precious so don’t waste a single moment and be grateful for every second you’re alive.

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