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The Unfortunate Truth About the College Process

Like a dark storm cloud that hangs above your head constantly, it’s always looming in your mind.  It may not start to feel real until you’re too far in.  To many, it’s considered a nightmare that will literally keep you up at night.  Anxiety, pressure, and suspense overwhelm you.  You lose sight of what is important and what actually matters.  What I’m talking about might seem like a scary dream, or a horror film, but in reality it is so much worse.  The college process.  The mere sound of it makes us cringe.  Its presence is always there, reminding us to be better and do better, but when does it really hit?  Senior year, first semester.

No one will warn you about the stress of the process—the endless applications, meetings with college counselors, re-writing supplements until they’re “perfect”, etc.  No one will tell you that your first semester of senior year will be harder and more trying than all of your years of high school.  It does not need to be like this, though.  The process should be exciting and inviting to students—an opportunity to experience life as an independent adult—but our society has made the word “college” alone sound more terrifying than anything we could have ever imagined.  So how much of this process can we actually control? Is it even worth the worry?

As someone who has taken the dreaded ACT test a total of 5 times, I understand how trying this process can be.  There are now officially 850 test optional colleges that do not even require these test scores, so why even bother taking it?  One reason might be that the schools that do not require these tests are  not for everybody.  When scrolling through the list, it is not hard to recognize that many of these schools are small, liberal arts colleges. This does not help people like me, for example, since I am looking for a different type of institution: a big, state school.  Although the option is there, it is not available for students looking for something different. ( full list here )

The SAT was introduced in 1926 as an optional test, so that students might be considered for scholarships or financial aid.  As time went on, the number of students taking these tests increased, and now you can’t find someone in the Friends community who hasn’t made plans to take the test, or taken it already. Though most students take this test, many schools believe that they are irrelevant, and that GPA matters more.  The concept of the standardized test is fair in theory, but in practice there seem to be many disadvantages.  To register for an ACT, including the “optional” writing section, a student must pay $43.  Now take that number and think about the many students who take this test more than once.  For example, I took the test five times.  This comes out to be $215, plus the price of the TI-84 calculator ($190) which is recommended for the test.  Add  to this the cost of the Real ACT Test Prep recommended by the ACT($30) and finally the price of a tutor, ($400 a week for on average one year, which comes to about $20,800 per year)  In total, this test would cost $21,235 for a person who gets tutored for one year, and takes the test five times.  This points out one of the many reasons why this test is biased.  What about the families that cannot spend this type of money on this test? Studies have shown that minority families seem to be taking advantage of test optinal schools more than others.   A report done by Lynn O’Shaughessy on CBS news states: “A new study suggests that even though one of the main motivations that these colleges cite in adopting a test-optional policy is creating more diverse campuses by improving the admission chances of low-income and minority students, they're falling short of that target.” ( Even though the option is available, it is clear that students from low-income families are more inclined to take them rather than students who can afford the testing process.   Below is a graph that shows the advantage that students who are wealthier have.

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Students are striving for “good” test scores, so they can get into the college of their choice.  In our community, the average test score of a high school senior in America would be considered low, or not good enough.

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When asking around, more than 30 students in the class of 2016 said they would not be satisfied with a composite score of 20-22.  The average score of a student taking this test, is anywhere from a 20-21, so why is our community so convinced that this is just not good enough? Is it becoming harder to get into schools that were once considered easy? Why are students so focused on reaching the goal of a 30 or even 35? The environment we live in, Friends and Long Island in general, has created this frenzy about being the best, and not settling for anything less.  This pressure is causing seniors all over to crack.   

On the north shore of Long Island, specifically, this process has become the topic of most if not all conversations.  Because of the culture, many students have felt that when applying to schools they need to apply to only the best, and that can only be done with a high ACT score, preferably in the range of 29-34.  When asking around the FA community, the majority of seniors (that were asked) agreed that because of some scores on tests, they will not apply to some of the schools they once dreamed of attending.  Many think that it is not worth applying if they know a rejection letter is in their future.  The pressure of doing well on this test not only affects what college kids are going to apply to but also how students will do on the actual exam. Personally, I know that the pressure I have put on myself to reach this “goal” number has weakened my ability to actually achieve it.  Many students know are applying to “safety” schools or schools they know they can get into with the score they have.  Yes, these schools do take some of the pressure off, but why even get excited about getting into a school you know you wont go to?

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Above we see the spread of admissions based on ACT/SAT scores from Wright State University.   Admission to this university is guaranteed for students who have finished the core curriculum given at their school and have a GPA of 2.0 or higher.  The ACT score necessary to get in is a 15 composite.  Here we see a school that has let many people in, but note by the number of blue dots that many won’t attend.  This is the problem with our “safe” schools.  We know we would get in, but never end up applying.  We as a culture want to go to the best schools, not the safety schools.  Success is the endgame, but why is it only achievable at some places?  Why can’t you have success at your “safe” school?  The answer is that you can. 

Coming from a school like this, we have been gifted with tools that will lead us to success no matter where we go.  Going through this process has taught me that I am so much more than just a number on a standardized test.  Although it may seem hard to believe, college admissions counselors know this too.  Any school you choose to attend will be lucky to have you, and you will do great things there.  Remember that in 10 years from now, you won’t remember the number you got on the SAT or ACT or what colleges rejected you.  You’ll remember how much fun you had with your friends, important lessons you learned, and what you learned about yourself.  Although it may feel like the end of the world, this process is just the beginning. 


  1. Carol Van Auken December 1, 2015


    Great job!

  2. Marika Knight December 2, 2015


     Great article. Good balance of emotion and math.  Thanks for putting a true perspective out there.

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