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Choose Wisely: The Stress and Fear of Picking Colleges

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By Eli Newberger, age 17

Eli Newberger is a junior at Walter Payton College Preparatory in Chicago. He is a participant in The OpEd Project's Youth Narrarating Our World.

December is a big month for high school seniors applying to college. More than 2.5 million Americans will apply to college this year. As a high school student, the multiple "early decision" deadlines have just passed and regular decision applications are due after the holidays. College is approaching fast-- and I'm still in 11th grade.

I am not alone. More than 40 percent of kids ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in a higher education program.

Securing the right college for me at this time is an odd thing to comprehend. Seeing friends, only one year older than me, be thrown into the college application process made me realize that in one short year I would be in the same position. Here I was, not a quarter of the way done with my third year of high school and already it felt like I needed to plan for life after graduation.

Initially, I felt like my time at school was ending. Based on how quickly high school was moving by, I felt like college would be here and gone in a minute. I realized that this thought process was a bit hasty. In reality, I was only a little more than half way done with high school and had plenty of time before I need to plan for post-graduation.

However, many of my friends expressed similar stresses. While some know what they are looking for in a college experience, many do not.

For the high school students who feel uncertain about what they want from college, an environment of stress over college applications can leave them feeling frazzled. The current system of college decision making, assumes that by the end of junior year, students know what they are looking for in the upcoming four years.

Only one out of three high school students chooses a college major that fits their strengths and preferences, according to a new study, The College Choice Report: Preferences and Prospects, from ACT Inc., the testing people. The report also shows that choosing the wrong major can result in not graduating from college in four years or worse, dropping out of school.

Young students shouldn't be rushed into making a decision about their education without really knowing what that decision means.

Research shows that many college graduates have regrets about their topic of study. An earlier 2012 study at Rutgers University reported that 37 percent of a group of recent college graduates say that they wish they had "been more careful about selecting my major or chosen a different major."

The study also showed that 14 percent wish they had gone to a different college. Overall, two-thirds of the graduates surveyed said that they would "do something different if they had it to do over" in terms of making decisions about their college education.

The issue here is that some high school students just do not know what they want to learn about more specifically. With the value of a college education increasing, it should not be something that people pursue without knowing for sure the time spent is worthwhile. This means using their education practically-in any way.

For students who don't yet know what they want to learn or how to apply it, there should be other programs similar to college to give kids experiences to help them on their way. Gap year programs are a great way to delay college, and can give kids an opportunity to explore possible interests.

With the amount of stress already in students' lives and the negative outcomes possible for the wrong college choice more care should go into matching students with a school. If there was less stigma or fewer consequences from switching majors or transferring schools, students may feel less pressure in high school that the college choice they make now they have to stick with forever.

This change would need to come from both the students and the institutions they are enrolled in. The opportunity to go to college is an incredible one. More should be done to make sure that the experience matches the student.