Cheers (and a Few Tears) to the College Process

This article features Early Action and Early Decision college stress-relief and tips, next steps in the college process, and Stuyvesant-exclusive information on its college culture.

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By Susannah Ahn

2 1nfinity and Beyond! As the holidays approach, something worth celebrating is that after several stressful months, Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) college applications are over for Stuyvesant seniors.

Early Action and Early Decision are enrollment plans used by many colleges and universities. Unlike the standard Regular Decision plan in which students send in applications in January and get results in March, EA and ED both require students to apply earlier. Students usually submit applications by November and receive a decision in December or January. However, a fundamental difference between the programs is that EA is non-binding, meaning that accepted students do not necessarily have to go to that school. ED, on the other hand, is binding.

According to Director of College Counseling Jeffrey Makris, there is one main reason why colleges offer these plans and why students decide to utilize them. “The benefit for colleges is clear,” he said. “They get to secure an early portion of the class.”

For students, the benefit garnered by applying early is also clear-cut: if admitted, they are able to skip past the long and stressful process of Regular Decision reactions. In addition, it seems as though students have a better chance of being admitted early: “For many colleges, the admission rates are better in the early pool than in the regular pool,” Makris said.

This year, more seniors applied EA or ED to a school than usual. College counselor Jeaurel Wilson linked the high numbers of early applicants to the extra anxiety created by the pandemic. “The nervousness of college applications [this year] made students apply even more,” she noted. To help overcome this anxiety, Wilson suggested that students take a breather and focus on other aspects of life outside of college. “It's just a matter of taking their time,” she explained. “Go for a nice leisurely walk, jog if that’s your thing, draw, read, write, [or] take personal journals.”

Makris, too, has advice. After completing early applications, Makris advised that students let the college application process leave their minds. “There’s not much you can do at [this] point; focus on things that [you] have control over, like [your] relationships, the things you do for fun, [and] staying on top of school,” he explained. “Do your best not to eat, breathe, and sleep college 24/7.”

Students should also make sure to take college applications as a chance to celebrate all of their high school achievements. Senior Kimya Firoozan certainly did. “It’s been four long years of high school, and I’m just happy and comfortable with where I am. The fact that I submitted my college application just a few weeks ago [...] is something to be proud of,” she said.

One of the biggest reasons to celebrate small achievements instead of becoming crazy about college 24/7 is that, at a certain point, there’s nothing more that can be done to influence the outcome. Stressing about a potential rejection won’t do anything to prevent it. “[Rejection is] a bitter pill to swallow; it really is. It’s a horrible feeling,” Wilson said. “I know the devastation that students go through, and I think this year is going to be particularly difficult because we’re all so isolated.”

Nevertheless, college counselors have advice on how to overcome this “bitter pill.” Makris, for one, said, “It’s very important to not personalize getting disappointing news […] When you’re talking about highly selective colleges like we’re talking about, the ones that students are most focused on, that tells you that they’re denying the vast majority of their applicant pool.” Many students are prone to think along the lines of “I didn’t get [in], so I wasn’t good enough,” but Makris said they should stray from this flawed logic. Because of the myriad factors taken into consideration for admissions, it is impossible for colleges to admit all of the qualified applicants.

For all Stuyvesant students, Makris shared several important goals that students should strive toward. These tips include staying on top of one’s workload, engaging during classes, something that is especially important online, and reaching out to one’s guidance counselor or teacher when one is struggling. Finally, students should remember that academic success is not the determining factor for college admissions.

Moreover, a student's well-being should always take precedence over their grades. College counselor Elizabeth Hughes added, “If you’re not of strong mind and body, you’re going to compromise yourself in so many different ways, not just college applications.”

But keeping a strong mind and body can be hard at a school known for its intense college culture. Counselors acknowledge this difficulty: “There’s absolutely a college culture, which I love because everyone should be motivated and focused to move forward with their education and move forward to college,” Wilson said.

With that pressure comes an expectation that students pursue a well-known university. “Our kids love big research universities in or near cities, [the] East Coast, Southern California, and a couple [of] places in the Midwest,” Makris said.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular colleges among Stuyvesant students are Ivy League schools. But counselors warn against applying to an Ivy just because of the big name. “In general, our kids are obsessed with the Ivy Leagues,” Makris said. “There’s so much pressure from places to try to chase these schools that a lot of kids apply without thinking things through and [asking], ‘Are these really right for me?’”

In addition, students should remember that big-name schools are not always the key to success. “You don’t have to go to one particular type of school to be successful,” Wilson said.

Hughes shares this sentiment: “Where you go to college is not going to shape your future […] College gives you all the building blocks you need, but you create the future, and I think that’s something that’s really valuable to embody.”

Makris, echoing his colleagues, reminded students that there isn’t only one college where students will find happiness and success. “In truth, there are hundreds of places for kids to go to college and build brilliantly successful lives,” Makris said. “If you’re engaged and you make the most of your experience wherever you go, you’re going to be fine.”