4 Ways to Deal with College Admissions Competition

You used to be those friends: the ones who told one another everything, did everything together, laughed at the same things together and gave the stink eye to anyone who dared try separating your crew. Recently, however, you've been noticing that even your closest friends have become increasingly secretive, wary and even jealous of your accomplishments, and it's really getting on your nerves.

Instead of being put under some evil spell or going through some serious personality changes, your friends are probably just feeling the effects of the college admissions season, so don’t stress too much – it’s probably only temporary. With everyone taking the same tests and trying to get into the same super-selective colleges, it's no wonder that the college applications process can bring out the worst in people. Luckily, all of this craziness will pass once graduation comes around, but until then, check out these four tips for dealing with college admissions competition among friends!   

1. Don't brag


There's always that one kid who gets admitted to college in December and then feels the need to share her absolutely fantastic news on Facebook with the whole world... repeatedly. Aww, isn't that thoughtful of her? But actually, don't be that kid. Although doing well on your SATs and receiving offers of admission definitely deserve celebration, bragging about it to your friends during college application season can come across as being insensitive to their feelings.

"Social media is a huge source for the competitive friend to bring attention to [his or her] success," says Kerri Kingery, a counselor at Canon City High School. "[That friend] seem[s] to get so caught up in [his or her] fame and forget the others that may be affected."

Remember the stress you went through to achieve those accomplishments? Imagine the pressure that your friends are under right now. It can be tough for even the nicest people to be happy for you when they don't know how their applications are going to turn out.

Your friends might not hear back from colleges at the same time, and some may get waitlisted or receive rejection letters. So make sure you don't rub it in when you find out that you were accepted to a college and others were not. Share your wonderful news, of course, but try to leave it at that. Limit the celebrations until each of your friends has found a school, and then rally up the crew and go all out!

And if you're in a position in which a close friend is the one who won't stop bragging about her college acceptances, be honest with her. Maybe try telling her point-blank that you're feeling anxious about your own college applications and that you could really use some support right now. Or, the next time you catch her bragging again, try to respond with some humor and a lack of encouragement instead of going with the flow and pretending to be impressed. Maybe even try paying her a compliment, which will probably make her day and give her less of a reason to continue bragging. Hopefully with a little confrontation she'll get the idea that real friends should be considerate and supportive of each other during these drama-filled times.

2. Curb your jealousy


On the flip side of things, your close friends might be doing really well with their college applications, and you're simply waiting for things to look up a bit on your end. It doesn't make you a bad friend if you feel jealous of their achievements; trust us, it's totally normal! But curbing this jealousy will make things a lot easier for everyone involved.

Natalie* and her best friend both applied early decision to the same Ivy League school, and it definitely put a strain on their friendship.

"Originally, we didn't really talk about the school we applied to at all because it was just too uncomfortable ... which was helpful—until, of course the official decision came out," Natalie says. "Because it was early decision ... it was the only school we had both heard back from, and I got a flat no and she got deferred.

"When we found out, we told each other right away," Natalie says. "We were best friends, so I would've told her any college news first anyway. She was gentle about it, and I think I was very insecure right away since I was the one who got the flat-out no."

For someone as competitive as Natalie, it was difficult not to be envious of her friend's deferral. But talking about it instead of being sneaky or secretive helped them work through this bump in their relationship. Stay open and honest, prepare yourself for the possibility that some of your friends may get accepted and you might not and remind yourself that it's not their fault if that happens.

It's a natural response to want to blame your friends for your own college decisions, but keep in mind that they really aren't the ones who ultimately send out those acceptance letters. Try not to take things personally.

"There could have been any number of factors for why they deferred her and rejected me, but in the moment it feels very personal and was really difficult for me to get over," Natalie says.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your achievements, who you are and how proud you are of your own accomplishments. Feeling good about yourself will make it easier for you to be there for your friends and lessen the strain that inevitably comes out during college admissions.

3. Stop comparing yourself to others


All this competition among friends can really take a toll on everyone involved, and on some not-so-great days, it might feel like you're just not good enough. Don't let yourself feel defeated! Everyone comes from different backgrounds, has access to different resources and has different goals, so knowing your own limits and thinking realistically about your future can help you be the best you can be and achieve the best you can, which is all you can really ask for.

"Be real with yourself," Kingery says. "If there are limits that you have [to deal with] in making a decision about your post-secondary choices, realize those limits and shoot for the stars within your reality—feel power within your decisions and choices and know your own success. When you can positively act and think about how successful you can be, then your feeling and physiology will help drive you towards that success."

There is definitely a lot of truth behind the saying "just be yourself." Instead of worrying about how you look to other people, focus on all the hard work that you've put in and bask in the knowledge that you've picked the perfect college for you, not anybody else.

Letting bragging rights or rivalries color your college choice can potentially harm you when it comes to choosing the college that fits you the best, since the school that sounds the best on paper might not be the best fit for you. Instead, be true to yourself and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.

"I encourage students to think realistically about who they are, their goals, expenses, location and financial aid available," Kingery says. "Once they have their own sense of reality and accomplishment, then they begin to feel success in their choices."

So it doesn't matter that your fellow classmates might be getting accepted into more prestigious schools. You are your own person, and you should be proud of everything you've done. Don't let a little competition get in the way of that.

4. Look forward to the future


As high school seniors, college choices seem to define everything about you, and, let's be honest, it sucks. But remember: college isn't everything. It's what you make of your own education that counts. So while there might be petty squabbles and competition over colleges now, you'll be surprised by how little it will matter in a few months' time.

"There's seems to be a sense of prestige when it comes to college/universities students select or have been accepted to," Kingery says. "There's a ‘one-up’ ideal when students win or feel more successful than others."

Sarah Engstrand, a recent college grad, recalls an incident during college applications in which a classmate found out that another girl had applied to "her" school and started freaking out.

"We went to a very small school and the thought ... was that only one person would get in to each school," Sarah says. "With a big smile on her face, Joker-style, she went up to the girl and started screaming at her, in front of everyone! The pressure is so high at that stage of your life to get into the perfect college, you will sacrifice almost anything, or anyone, to get what you think you want."

The competition surrounding college applications can definitely reach reality-TV-level drama sometimes, but in the end you'll look back and probably chuckle to yourself at all those memories as you lounge in your awesome new college suite. Oh, and whatever happened to that girl from Sarah's high school?

"In the end, she didn't get into that college, but she ended up loving the one she did go to," Sarah says. "I wonder if she even remembers the little episode now?"

For Natalie and her best friend, what felt like such a huge deal senior year is also in the past; They ended up at different schools and are both happy now. So don't worry, it does get better!

For now, though, try to take your own mind off your friends' comparative successes and failures by using all that time you would've spent worrying on something productive, like researching the schools on your list. Looking at the degree programs, courses, extracurriculars and study abroad options that your schools offer is not only cooler than flailing about in all that drama, but will also help you find the right college that fits your needs and expectations!

There will always be people who will try to ruffle your feathers during college application season, but know that there's a lot more to look forward to in the near future: the work that you put into your education, the degree you receive, the experiences and opportunities that await you and more. So if your classmates want to compete and brag, let them; you'll have the satisfaction of being able to think ahead and daydream about all the things you'll be able to do as a college freshman.


It's probably like a battlefield out there right now in the high school world, with competition and rivalries happening among friends about college applications and acceptances. Armed with these tips, however, you can take pride in knowing that you're doing your personal best, and that's what matters. Once college comes around, all of this drama will fade into distant memory.