The College Process in America: Excess Stress Being Placed on Hard Working Teens

Background on my Project

  • The college process has become an extremely difficult milestone for students across the globe and the stress related to it has exponentially increased. However, my project will focus on raising awareness about the American college process as I know the most about it from personal experience and it relates to my life the most.
  • The college process includes standardized testing, everyday schoolwork, extracurricular activities, sports, community service, etc, and the process with all its parts can contribute to an immense feeling of stress and anxiety. Teens are expected to expected to participate in many activities and maintain certain grades, which is very difficult, and teens are often times misunderstood or labeled as lazy by older generations. However, the truth is that the college process has become increasingly more difficult and continues to do so as time goes on. Therefore, a key focus of my project is alerting adults and older generations on what teens must deal with nowadays within the process.
  • My personal experience: As a junior right now I am just beginning some of the processes associated with the college process like visiting colleges, standardized testing, and building my transcript. However, despite never even having looked at a college application yet, I have felt a burden from this process that will get even worse. My school is extremely competitive and difficult and this process has made the difficult task of completing my course work even more challenging. I chose this topic because I was inspired by an example on one of our GOA assignments and transformed my project from overall teen stress and anxiety to teen stress and anxiety as a result of the college process. I chose this because I wanted to provide an outlet for students to express themselves in order to raise awareness for the issue. I also wanted to allow a conversation to start that would include the voices not only of students, but also of teachers, parents, administrators, etc. I know from my environment and the sociocultural factors that affect me that I will have a very different experience with the college process than someone else in a different country or even a different school. However, we are all tied together in this process and I want this to be a place where people can learn from the diverse experiences of others and develop a bond to help other students.

Stats on the Process Overall

  • A college degree → transformed from a “nice-to-have” to a necessity for even “lower-middle class life” in America (US News)
  • Growing population of age group (18-24) + increasing numbers of young adults considering college → leading to a harsh decline of college acceptance rates
  • Overall enrollment in post-HS institutions increased from 25% in 1970 to 40% in 2014 (among those aged 18-24)
  • Ex) University of Pennsylvania Acceptance Rate in 1990: 41% → 2017: 10%

How This Affects Teens Overall

  • As the college admissions process becomes a more difficult and selective process teens are faced with the challenge of standing out from tens of thousands of other applicants by doing sports, extracurriculars, SAT and ACT prep, SAT subject tests, and also by taking extremely difficult classes on top of everything else.
  • Teens are faced with the pressure from teachers, parents, counselors, relatives, and peers to perform at the highest level and do things never before done in an environment that solely becomes more and more toxic.
  • The goal of my project is to expose the pressures placed on teens to the community around and amongst teens in order to spread awareness and garner empathy for these stressed teens.


  • Teens of today’s world are often dismissed as lazy amongst other things and are often attacked with questions over and over again about the college process. Furthermore, today’s teens are fighting their way to college in the most selective admissions environment to date. However, elders often are not considerate of what teens must face today so that is one goal audience of my project. I would like to enlighten the older generations on what the process is like now so that teen issues can be more accepted and treated like valid problems.
  • The other main audience is teens themselves so that young adults are able to foster a more accepting and supportive community for their fellow peers. If teens join together to advocate for themselves in one collective voice I believe we will be able to demonstrate our cause and feel a greater sense of support from our respective communities. Being there for a peer whether it just be saying hi or sitting with them in class can make a huge difference in brightening someone’s day or lessening their negative thoughts.

Severe Anxiety

  • As a result of the college admissions process and the lengths teens must go to advocate for themselves, anxiety has overtaken the lives of many teens. Even as undergraduates in college, anxiety continues to plague their lives as the American College Health Association found that in 2011 – 50% of undergraduates felt “overwhelming anxiety” while the percentage increased to 62% in 2016.
    • In conjunction, there has also been a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teens over the last 10 years.
    • Mountain Valley (a nonprofit program that offers some need-regulated assistance for teens struggling with various anxiety disorders) has worked to offer services to help anxious teens with learning how to be mindful and more relaxed. See their website for more information:
    • Therapy can be extremely useful to help teens deal with some of the anxiety associated with the college admissions process, but without other individuals recognizing teen stress as a legitimate problem teens will continue to suffer.
  • Nearly ⅓ of BOTH adolescents AND adults suffer from Anxiety in America according to the National Institute of Mental Health, which is why it is important that teen anxiety is just as recognized and treated as adult anxiety.


Personal Accounts from Flipgrid – Abnormal Psych GOA Students:

Maddie K

High school is a big jump from middle school and can be very stressful with the amounts of work given. In general, as you get older stress increases a result of participation in various activities including school and sports. Being apart of a competitive school environment worsens the stress overall (which is why it’s important to foster a more accepting and supportive community.)

Sophia L

Having to do auditions for college was a huge part of her stress, which was difficult on top of all her schoolwork especially during her senior fall.

Sydney M

Her brother was very stressed the first semester of senior year as he had to complete all these outside of school applications while completing regular schoolwork as well. Also, waiting for the decision was very stressful because a lot of weight is placed on the outcome and the date of when decisions come out.

Cassidy M

She tends to suffer from a lot of anxiety and stress due to tests and quizzes, and she often uses breathing techniques she learned from wellness classes. She also goes outside to take her dog on a walk and that helps her as well when her anxiety gets very bad.



How to Help a Teen (Audience #1)


Listen to teens when they come to you to discuss any stress or feelings they have about the college process because in doing so you will become a possible source of refuge for a teen. It will feel as though more people understand them and will thus allow you to better their experience. Furthermore, offering a nonjudgmental ear to listen to their problems will allow teens to feel an increased sense of comfort regarding dealing with stress. You can become a safe haven in which teens do not feel judged by an adult, but they instead feel as though their problems are accepted.


Work towards understanding teens and trying to provide a good responsive environment to bounce off ideas with teens and provide genuine advice. If you are able to understand the plight of a teen by stepping into their shoes then you will be able to help provide advice for teens that will allow them to both advocate for themselves and work towards creating a more comforting environment. You can become a true advocate for these teens in this process, which could tremendously change a teen’s experiences.

Reflect and Communicate

Reflect on how you have responded to teens in the past and voice your opinion. This will allow you to recognize whether you have given teens a fair response to their problems and work towards responding better when they talk with you again or when talking to other teens. Reflecting on your own experiences and what the process has become will allow you to give teens beneficial advice. It will allow you to realize that the process is different now and while you may have experienced something during your process the same might not be true for today’s teens. Once you reflect you can better understanding teens overall and thus make them feel better. Communicate with teens with empathy and understanding in order to offer a kind safe haven where they can escape from their stresses. Do not try to diminish their worries because to them it is real and stressful.



Tips for Teens from a Teen (Audience #2)

Advocate for Yourself

Working together with other teens will allow you to advocate for yourself by truly defining what you need from your community and what you feel. By thinking about what you are dealing with and voicing your concerns in a non-aggressive manner, you will be able to truly catalyze change for yourself and other teens. Think about what you need and then express yourself to parents and peers.

*Extra Tip: Consider setting up one time with your parents or relatives to talk about college like Sunday night at dinner for example. They can talk to you about college for those 30-45  mins or so and that is all for the next week let’s say. Setting up this time will allow you have to room to breathe and decide when you want to talk about YOUR process because it is your own and you can take ownership of that.

Reach Out

Talk to other teens you trust when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed as they can provide a good resource to help because they understand your life. Talking to other teens will allow you to feel better understood and will allow other teens to know they have a friend and confidant in you. Once you begin reaching out about your process, other teens will know they can come to you, and this will foster a sense of community.


Recognize what is important in your life and do not try to do too many things in order to stand out in the admissions process. Take challenging classes, but in subject areas that are important to you and you enjoy. Try not to stretch yourself too thin with extra activities, but instead focus on prioritizing a few key activities and really dedicating yourself to those things. Also, if some work is too much recognize that that is okay and you can give yourself a break. Take that extra hour of sleep over studying for 60 more minutes because you have to self-reflect and treat yourself well in this extremely grueling process. Although this advice can be hard to follow, the most important thing is taking care of and looking out for your well-being.

Be Open

Be open to helping out other teens so that you too will have a community to reach out to when you are feeling down. Don’t compete with your fellow teens in a process you cannot control because that will only lead to bad-blood and increased stress. The most important thing is for you to help foster a kind and caring community that you and other teens can utilize in high-stress situations. Be the person others can come to when they are feeling down. Be an advocate for your fellow teens. Work together!

Want to Join the Conversation?
  • Participate in the interactive Padlet below where Catalyst Conference viewers can share their opinion on topics discussed in my project!
 Works Cited: (MLA Format)
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Sacramento Valley • Roseville, CA.” Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Sacramento Valley Roseville CA,
  • Denizet-Lewis, Benoit. “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2017,
  • Nelson, Randi. “Help for Teen Mental Health: What Causes Anxiety Disorders?” Teen Mental Health Hospital, 1 Nov. 2017, 
  • Ossola, Alexandra. “High-Stress High School.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 Oct. 2015,
  • Powell, Farran. “How Competitive Is College Admissions?” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report,
  • “Stress and Teens.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association,
  • VTCommonsStudentWork. “‘Dear College’ – Spoken Word by Nimaya.” YouTube, YouTube, 10 Mar. 2017,
  • WSJDigitalNetwork. “Don’t Ask a Stressed-Out Student About Their College Plans.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 Mar. 2017,
Thank You! 🙂 
Share this project
  1. April 26, 2018 by Ava.Carter Reply

    I have just recently finished the college process and officially committed to a university. The college process was indeed an interminable and harrowing path- which I am thankful to have completed. I appreciate that you covered this issue because I think it’s so difficult and challenging for teens to successfully complete this process. But I’m glad that you illuminated this topic and also broached the mental health problems that many teens inevitably get because of college stress.

    • April 29, 2018 by Sarah P Reply

      Hi Ava! Congrats on committing to a university! Thank you so much for your kind comment. I really wanted to expose this topic in a greater light in order to allow students to receive greater sympathy through this difficult process. I hope yu enjoyed my project!

  2. April 28, 2018 by Zoe Boggs Reply

    I also just finished applying to colleges and choosing one to attend, and it was definitely anxiety-inducing! I felt like college was all I could ever talk about with my fellow students and with adults. It definitely got to be tiring and stressful to talk about the future. This was a really interesting presentation to read, and your advice to parents and teens is so helpful!

    • April 29, 2018 by Sarah P Reply

      Hi Zoe! Congratulations on your process and I hope you are less stressed now! I often spend time with my parents talking about college and it is often a conversation with friends, which can be difficult. I am glad you liked my advice because I thought it would be really important to include a call to action for various audience groups.

  3. April 29, 2018 by Kiley.Herlihy Reply

    I think this topic is very important to bring awareness around. Every student that goes through this process should be aware of these facts and how they can combat the stress levels. I think that if more people talked about their experiences, then those suffering right now wouldn’t feel so alone. The way you presented this topic, especially the inclusion of pictures made it engaging for the reader. Well done!

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