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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Berkeley chapter.

As a second-year college student, I have now had a couple of years to distance myself from the painstaking process of college admissions, and, looking back on that undertaking now, I have realized how toxic and truly disheartening the whole thing is. 

College Decisions

The process seems to begin for most people around sophomore year of high school when kids are only 14 or 15 years old. At that age, it’s nearly impossible to know where in the world you’ll actually want to go to school, experiencing the formative years of your young adulthood, let alone what you want to do with your life. Nonetheless, at that young age, people begin reading books about the best colleges and touring schools they believe they might be interested in two years down the road, with the idea in mind that they have to know exactly what major they might want to have in order to cater their college choice to fit their future career goals. It’s an absurd amount of pressure to place on young people who shouldn’t be worried about what the next 50-plus years of their lives will look like.

Beyond the fact that the beginning of the college admissions process places inordinate amounts of pressure on prospective students, those students also tend to focus on the same 30 schools or so — the big names like the UCs, Ivy’s, or the one biggest university from each state, because these are the schools that everyone talks about. Despite the fact that I read through an 800-page book detailing many different colleges all over the country (and abroad), I ultimately dismissed many of the colleges I’d never heard of before, opting to apply to well-known schools, some of which, I admit, I was only vaguely interested in.

There are thousands of universities in the United States alone, and looking at them through such a narrow lens closes applicants off to schools that could be an amazing fit, but are not widely discussed. Such a mindset of focusing on only a few well-branded schools is another extremely toxic trait of the college decision process. Not only does this prevent teens from really exploring their options, but also, when so many people focus on the same places, obviously the admissions are going to become more and more competitive, and a larger amount of applicants will face a demoralizing rejection from a school they applied to because it was popular.

College Applications

After spending months, or even a couple of years touring and reading about schools, when students reach their junior year, they begin the process of applying to college. This typically requires taking the SAT or ACT and filling out at least one, but typically more, online applications. The applications themselves require a countless number of essays in which students must attempt to prove to colleges that they led an interesting enough life to be considered for admission. Beyond those essays, you have to lay out essentially every important thing you’ve participated in or achieved for the past 10 or so years, condensing your whole life into a few paragraphs. 

The process of combing through each of your successes, failures, and everything in between is emotionally exhausting and represents another one of the downsides to the application system. Applying takes months, and what’s even more demoralizing is that college admissions teams spend a fraction of that time reviewing each applicant. According to UC Berkeley, they received about 124,000 applications in 2024 for the class of 2028, and, with that volume, only a small amount of time can be spent reviewing the 10-plus years of life contained in each application. 

At my high school, around the time when people were applying to college, many of my teachers placed a ban on discussing applications in class, because it would stress everyone out so much. The fact that the process creates such a competitive and unpleasant environment proves that there’s something inherently wrong with the way the whole undertaking works. And that’s before you even get to the acceptances, rejections, and waitlists.

Admissions Decisions

The months of February and March are wrought with the release of admissions decisions, and it can be one of the best or worst times of the year. Candidly, I didn’t get into my first choice school, and beyond being upset about not being able to go there, I was upset because it felt like I was being told my life and accomplishments weren’t good enough. You put everything about yourself out there and get told none of it is enough for the people who spent so little time reviewing your application. It’s insanely disheartening for not only the applicant but also their loved ones. 

However, despite all the negatives of the college admissions process, getting accepted into a school you’re excited about is an amazing feeling. I am of the firm belief that people will end up in college where they’re meant to be, and I can say that now, looking back on my “dream” school, I’m so glad I didn’t end up there and am beyond happy to be at UC Berkeley, where I never believed I would end up.

Overall, there are many downsides to the way college decisions and admissions function, including but not limited to the pressure it puts on young people to have their future planned out at age 15, the narrow lens through which people look at colleges, and the time, effort, and stress exerted while filling out an application. Although the system needs some work for sure, the outcome is usually very positive, and eventually, all of the stress will seem insignificant. 

Eloise Krause

UC Berkeley '26

Eloise is a sophomore at UC Berkeley majoring in English. She enjoys writing lifestyle pieces as well as listicles. In her free time she enjoys reading, baking, getting coffee, and hiking.