HUFFINGTON POST
10/07/2011 09:22 am ET | Updated Dec 07, 2011

College Admissions Anxiety: Teens Share Their Stories

We hear you, high school seniors: it's a stressful time right now. Of course, the complicated, long, and grueling process of applying to college is nothing to be surprised about. We're told it will pay off in the end and it's a rite of passage everyone goes through, right?

But some of you have been asking the question: is the college admissions process taking a heavier toll on my generation than any before it?

There's the economy, crippling debt, violence on campuses, falling admissions rates, and applications that require everything from a parent's educational background to the hours spent outside of the classroom on personal hobbies. And financial aid packages require their own, separate, multiple pages of hoops to jump through.

When HuffPost High School's group of over 200 teen bloggers wrote to us about whatever subjects they felt most passionate, it became clear that anxiety about college -- questioning whether the payoff is worth the heavy burden, both financially and emotionally -- is at the forefront of their minds.

Here are a few of their stories:

As school is coming around, so are tests, essays, and all that fun stuff. If you a senior, a junior, or a highly competitive sophomore, than you will be taking (or retaking) the SATs and or the ACTs. Well, most people will be at least. I decided after taking each test twice and not doing drastically better on my second tries that I have had enough. I do well in school, I have just about straight A's and my test scores are decent. I don't like to compare myself to others, especially since some of my friends are getting close to perfect scores on their tests and their grade point averages are 100. One would think having a 95 will get you into "that" school, it should right? Unfortunately, I have many doubts. I have researched and read almost every book on colleges from Princeton's guide to ongoing discussions with my school guidance counselor and family but I still don't know where I'll get in.

It's all too real. I just wrote my second college essay last night and I should be started on my Common Application already. When talking about what schools to apply to during dinner with my family I seemed to have shocked my grandparents. They both graduated from great schools, my grandmother from Smith and grandfather from Harvard. When I was telling my grandma where I wanted to go she seemed disappointed when I said Ohio State University. She is from Ohio and it seemed to her that I can do better. Which, who knows, maybe I can? So I asked her what schools she thought would be appropriate for me. She dropped names like Colgate, Lehigh, and some others. I told her I wanted to go BIG like the football schools and the big ten, you know the schools where your wardrobe consists of t-shirts with your mascot on it and body paint. She suggested U Michigan. It surprised her when I said that I probably couldn't get in.

Nearly 13 years of schooling under my belt and now that it is my senior year I am beginning to question everything. Did I sign up for the right classes? Should I have tried harder freshman year? Am I a viable candidate for the university of my choice? Am I on the right track for the rest of my life? These questions and insecurities build up inside of me, waiting to burst out the next time someone asks: "What are you doing after high school?" And all I want to say (well, yell) is that I have no idea. Of course, all of these thoughts are coming out in the form of frustration while talking to my mom at dinner one night. And her response to all of my problems is that I need to "be more confident in my abilities and trust that everything will work out." But here's the thing: how do I be more confident? How do I trust? We are so often told what to do, but rarely are we told how to do it.

Take, for example, a bad breakup. I know every high school teen can relate to having that one guy or girl rip your heart out, and all before first period. When we run to our friends and family for support, the most common response is to "move on" and "find closure." But how to do we get to that point? Time doesn't heal all wounds if we never learn how to cope with our pain, our frustrations, and our anxieties.

The summer before the senior year of high school is in no doubt the most important summer to date in a teenager's life. The long and arduous junior year consisting of difficult classes and standardized tests has just concluded. To make matters even more stressful, this is also the time to begin the college search.

For me, this meant parading across the Eastern Seaboard (and even the Midwest) in search for the school that is "right for me." This search included the always enjoyable and information sessions, and long tours that always seemed to be in the scorching sun or a foot of snow.

In order to find this school, I must first have to decide what I am looking for in a school. The choices of a big or small school or the distance away from home are the basic questions that need to be answered. However, it is the more specific qualities of a school that make these decisions very difficult.

I have yet to even apply to college and I have already learned things about myself that I did not know before this process. I now know that I am extremely indecisive, as I still have on my college list schools with 30,000 kids and 3,000 kids.

I have schools that are one hour away and 10 hours away, and schools that revolve around college football with schools where you won't find a football on the entire campus. I have also learned that college is a match to be made, and not a prize to be won.

Dear Alan Gelb,

For the past few weeks I have been reading your book, Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps. In the introduction you give the reader a layout of the 10 "easy" steps that you say will get him into the college of his dreams. I'm stuck on step three. I was coasting pretty easily through steps one and two, which set the background for the essay, and I was feeling pretty good about the process when I hit the third step, in which you ask me to pick my topic. The list of brainstorming questions included begs the most cliché answers, and unfortunately my life is not a trove of cliché memories.

There is no way around this list of questions, and by the end of the chapter I was still miles away from a topic, and have been since then. I feel as if your book is tailored to those kids who live through the craziest experiences, ones that change their lives. Would you be happy if I wrote about that time I visited the smallest town in some remote South American country and befriended a native girl whose life of extreme poverty and hunger changed the way I thought about the world forever? Or maybe your job would be accomplished if those questions made me remember the time I visited my grandmother at her deathbed in some ridiculously sanitized hospital and she gave me her watch that she always wore that was probably made at the turn of the 20th century and told me to never take life for granted and then died in my arms? Which brings me to another point of interest.

Unlike Lisa or Rebecca or Joey who all have life changing experiences to write about, I am somewhat normal. I don't go on trips to third-world countries, and I've never witnessed death firsthand. How do I write an essay about my perfectly normal life and get into college when I am up against kids who bleed their heart out on the page and send admissions officers running for the nearest tissue box, crying for the latest girl who claims to have seen the pains of the modern world on last summer's trip to the Sahara?

Since starting high school, I've been incessantly thinking about universities and grades and community service and SATs and extra-curricular activities, and the rest of that fiasco. And recently, I've been wondering if high school is just a liaison between adolescence and college. At this point, I realized that we aren't directly taught why we are taught. We learn it through utopian and dystopian novels, through Orwell's 1984and Huxley's Brave New World. We learn it through understanding the suppressed of the U.S.S.R. and North Korea. But it's never spelled out for us. And more, especially when I struggle, I ask why we need to take trigonometry and read mythology. When will I ever need to quote Shakespeare?

However, I came to understand that high school is so much more than a liaison. Up until graduate school, education is not about mastering the specialized tools of our future professions; it's not about learning to be a lawyer or a waiter or a surgeon. It's about learning to be worldly, about having meaningful conversation, about understanding Woody Allen's jokes, about understanding why there's discord in the Middle East.

So, when reading Shakespeare on SparkNotes, maybe we'll pass the class, and maybe we'll get accepted by a respected university. But what's the point? We'll continue cutting the corners of our intellect until we find ourselves mistaking Concord, New Hampshire for Concord, Massachusetts, or finding our lengthiest discussions being based on Jersey Shore. By fooling our teachers and schools and admissions officers, we're only fooling ourselves into a dull life, stripped of vitality and torn of understanding. Thankfully, I learned all this before recess. Now, I have the rest of the day to play.