Four years of our lives boil down to four pages: the college application. We spend high school chasing college acceptance, obsessively competing with our friends for grades, leadership positions, and a seat at an elite university. We pour countless hours into perfecting how we look on paper rather than focusing on what we can learn from our high school experience.
Senior year comes with a mountain of stress and expectations; at Stuyvesant, everything is about the Ivy Leagues, and not getting into a dream school feels like a kick in the guts. Many students tend to self-deprecate when they are rejected even though they may have been perfectly qualified for the school. Yet, we have been taught that subjecting ourselves to this is a rite of passage.
With severely understaffed college and guidance offices, students find themselves stuck with these negative mentalities and without a proper support system.
To deal with thousands of students, the college and guidance offices look to the most efficient solution: mass emails. These emails are addressed to both parents and students, discussing what seem like the most important part of our adolescent lives. Though they attempt to expand college options beyond the famed Ivy League schools and reassure students, many of us feel that we have to go through this arduous process alone.
Despite certain resources, a relationship experienced over a computer screen cannot compare to a more meaningful, in-person relationship, in which a student can feel more supported through the often tiring and confusing college process.
Additionally, while there is an SSR meeting set up for each junior with his or her guidance counselor for the student to discuss the process, oftentimes, the guidance counselor does not reach out beyond the SSR meeting. Students will only receive support if they take the initiative to seek it out.
It is no doubt an overwhelmingly difficult task to advocate for yourself when you don’t know where to start. At 17, we may find ourselves scrambling for answers when there is no one but us to teach our immigrant parents how to be what we need.
As of now, college counselors introduce juniors to the process with only an informative assembly during an English class and a thirty-minute private meeting with the student and his or her parents — not enough to provide serious, detailed answers.
Despite being a Title I school, the guidance office only glosses over financial aid opportunities. “It would be cool to get information about direct loans or scholarship programs so people who are making a tough decision have as much help as they can get,” senior Shaik Abiden said.
The blame doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the college and guidance offices, since they are forced to deal with inadequate resources. In response, many students resort to facebook groups, which consist of recent Stuyvesant graduates and seniors giving anecdotal advice. However, those giving advice are generally students who have been accepted into elite schools; at times, they provide misinformation and cannot advise the general population.
Even after they have submitted their college applications, seniors face numerous problems, particularly after results are released. Aside from an email sent out to students about facing rejection, the college office does not directly reach out to students.Though receiving rejections from colleges can be a huge emotional blow, many students feel too estranged from the college and guidance offices to seek emotional support. On the bright side, it is made clear that the college and guidance offices have open doors.
Accepted students face problems as well, and many don’t understand the importance of choosing among financial packages. Seniors tend to receive limited help in deciding which school is the right fit for them, both academically and financially.
The first step to improving the college process is to communicate more closely with students and their families. The school could make automated phone calls and alert students about what they need to do for the college process and notify parents about upcoming college workshops. There also needs to be clearer support in both financial aid and mental health.
But ultimately, in a school of about 3,000 students, where guidance counselors have to write SSRs for over 100 students, it is up to us to take the initiative and reach out to guidance. We should be making sure that our counselors know who we are and develop a healthy relationship with our advisors—not just because they will be able to write better recommendations, but because we will also have an easier time finding much-needed insight. The college process should be a two-way street.
Four years of our lives do not boil down to four pages; we should not treat high school like an extended college interview. It shouldn’t be a burden or a source of anxiety — it should be a dynamic journey.