Tunnel Vision

Every year, seniors must decide their future. While doing this, they face the application process — finding the right college, figuring out how to pay for tuition and handling the mental stress of it all.
Every year, seniors must decide their future. While doing this, they face the application process — finding the right college, figuring out how to pay for tuition and handling the mental stress of it all.
Shiren Noorani

Status update: your portal has been updated. 

The notification pops up on seniors’ phones, iPads, computers — every device they’ve been checking daily. Some will open the email immediately; others will wait to open it surrounded by friends and family. Three options will define their paths.

Accepted, rejected or waitlisted. 

Every year, seniors must decide their future. While doing this, they face the application process — finding the right college, figuring out how to pay for tuition and handling the mental stress of it all. 

Application Process

The most common websites used in Texas for college applications are ApplyTexas and Common App The majority of schools require students to write essays on various topics, provide their academic records in an attempt to accurately paint a picture of who they are as a person. 

Senior Nathan Araya is a first-generation student;  his parents immigrated to the United States from Eritrea, Africa. Araya said because of the lack of guidance he had during his application season, he found the process difficult.

“I wasn’t familiar with Common App, Apply Texas and other avenues to send college applications,” Araya said. “[It] was the first time in my life that I was seeing these [websites]. I had to do a lot of searching online and asking people for help to understand all the paths of sending a college application.”

Araya applied to 17 schools; multiple of them were Ivy League universities. Over the last couple of years, the Ivy League acceptance rates have reached new lows, including Harvard, which was at  3.19% in the 2021-2022 school year. Araya said that since the colleges he applied to were very selective, it was important for him to have a narrative and make sure his recreational activities correlated to a central theme. 

Araya said having extracurriculars geared toward his major — biomedical engineering — allowed him to earn acceptance to Harvard University, where he will be attending college next year. He took multiple AP classes, including high-level math and science courses. To further his experience with biomedical engineering, he did internships, where he worked directly under a doctor of Pharmacology. Outside of school, he worked on cancer-related research with a professor at a university, looking for cancer treatments derived from plants. 

“Once you find your narrative, you should take it as far as possible,” Araya said. “In the example of the student who wants to be a doctor, they should try to become a high officer for that medical club, accumulate a lot of hours volunteering at the hospital, and try to make [efforts] in the research they are doing, like getting a publication or creating a medicine that can treat a certain disease. I believe that when you do this, you become more unique as an applicant, which will make you stick out more to top colleges.” 

Though the average number of colleges that seniors apply to is eight to 12College Board suggests students apply to four to eight colleges. Seniors typically apply to an array of safety, target and reach schools, depending on the acceptance rates. In the middle of senior Kiyaan Aly’s junior year, he started looking into applications to make his college list.

“I listed every single college possible, around 50 colleges — [then] I brought it down to 17,” Aly said. “From there, I went through the process and learned more about the schools with just random questions or [using] Reddit. I eventually cut those schools down to 12.”

One issue Aly said he faced was choosing the right college that would fit all of his needs. He was accepted to both Texas A&M and the University of Texas, but could not decide where to go. He used Reddit, Discord, YouTube and various social media outlets to look at dorms, the social life of the schools and the different engineering programs. 

“My parents look at rankings a lot,” Aly said. “I was trying not to look at rankings, but it felt like they were pushing me to. [But] when you’re looking at the No. 12 program and the No. 9 program, there is not much of a difference.”

According to college data, 58% of seniors accumulate stress during application season. Counselor Jennae Bradley said the application process for seniors affects them heavily because of the constant worry of not knowing where they will end up going. Some students choose to take more difficult classes their senior year to boost their GPA or rank and potentially get into the colleges they desire.

“I think that most of my students and parents get very stressed because the whole idea of [applying] seems insurmountable and it’s hard to break it down into simple tasks,” Bradley said. “Applying for college is [actually] easier today than it was when I was a student. I think people have this idea that they have to do all these things, but they have made it so easy.”

There are different ways students can apply to colleges. Seniors have the option to apply for Early Decision, which requires the student to attend that university if they are accepted. Early Action allows students to still apply early and receive an early decision; however, they are not bound to the college and can still choose another college if they want. 

Restrictive Early Action only enables students to apply to one school early, but they don’t have to go to that school if they get in. Single Choice Early Action tells colleges that a student will not apply anywhere else Early Action or Early Decision. Some colleges offer Early Decision Two, which is a second round of early decision and is also a binding decision. When students apply regularly, they are not bound to the school they get into and can apply to as many colleges of their choice.  

“I applied as Restrictive Early Action to [Harvard], so this is the first acceptance that I received,” Araya said. “On top of the excitement from getting accepted to Harvard, I also was relieved in a way because I didn’t know for sure if I could achieve something like that. I opened up the acceptance letter with my whole family about one week before Christmas, so we set up some congratulatory items in case I got in. Once I opened the letter and saw that I got in, my parents screamed and jumped up for joy.”


Application fees can cost up to $90 per application, depending on the school. On average, if a student applies to all eight Ivy League colleges, they spend approximately $635. Many seniors, including Araya, worked jobs to pay for their college expenses.

“I am blessed to say that I received a full-ride scholarship to [Harvard], so my tuition will be completely covered by the college,” Araya said. “[However] working at my job last year allowed me to save up a good amount of money that I could use [in] college.”

The Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) underwent significant changes this past year, resulting in the form opening after a two-month delay and causing data to transmit to schools at a later date. Many schools had to move their deadline to submit FAFSA requests in the process. Some significant changes in the process were the need for a FSA ID for students and parents prior to starting the form and a role-based form, meaning parents will be sent separate emails with their end of the questions. 

“I haven’t gotten my financial aid package yet, [but] I’m going to appeal because FAFSA doesn’t take into [account] your siblings going to college [anymore],” Aly said. “I have two siblings [and] all three of us are going to college next year. They should have [it] divided by how many siblings are going, because that’s what they used to do. I’m going to appeal, because my home can not pay this much per person.” 

The average dorm can cost anywhere from $8,556 to $12,870 depending on if the college is a four-year private or public school. Most dorms provide board, which means students have meal prep. However, students still have to pay almost $1,284 a month for their nine-month stay.  To combat the housing payments, senior Paris Bradley was recruited from Louisiana Tech for basketball and received a full-ride scholarship. 

“I faced [a lot of] pressure before I got my first scholarship,” Paris said. “I don’t know why I put that much pressure on myself for no reason. After [receiving a full-ride scholarship to Louisiana Tech], I realized that my work was getting seen [and that] pressure kind of relieved itself.”

Throughout the four years of college, students can spend, on average, anywhere from $104,108 for public in-state tuition, $108,365 for public out-of-state tuition, to $223,360 for a private university. Senior Ananya Yarlagadda received multiple scholarships from schools making the tuition for her top choices for in-state and out-of-state schools nearly the same. 

“Most of the time, the school itself will have a lot [of scholarships] to offer,” Yarlagdha said.  “If you applied for two or three based [on] your time schedule, like applying to multiple a month, you get a lot in the end. Some scholarships don’t give you a lot, [but] you want to aim for the ones that give you $200-300, because less people will apply to those and they will easily cover travel, books or food. So aim lower because those are the ones that are going to get you the most money.”

Mental Stress

In the light of choosing what their futures will look like, Yarlagadda said she experienced stresses such as the social pressures that come with going to a “good” and “acceptable” school. On commitment day, she said how she felt pressured by her environment to showcase where she’s going —- even though she was still in between two schools. Yarlagadda is currently choosing between the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. 

“UTD is my safety school because, financially, that would be the better choice,” Yarlagadda said. “[I have to ask myself], ‘Do I want to make the jump of going out of state to this great business school [with] placements in Chicago and New York [and] really good companies that I’ve always wanted to, [or should I] go to stay in-state and do what everybody else is doing?”

With this year’s senior class coming in at just under 900 students, earning a spot on a team or in extracurricular organization can be difficult. Yarlagadda said sometimes people get unlucky with acceptance. Some of her friends who were National Merit Scholars were placed into alternative programs or didn’t get into their majors. She said it was important to remember that if you did well the last four years, you can do well in college, and a lot of that comes with knowing what is right for you.

“I don’t want to settle for a school,” Yarlagadda said. “[During this process], you really have to know who you are. I have always been very independent; I don’t let those pressures come to me. Just sticking with who you are, and knowing what you want in your life and knowing that you’re going to get there, really helps you try to figure [the future] out.”

The stress that comes with getting ready for adulthood and college can affect students in various ways such as academic performance, well-being and even social relationships. Bradley said she has seniors come in to talk to her about possible classes to take in order to improve their GPA after their current transcript releases. 

“It affects my seniors in the fall heavily, because everybody is really worried about where they’re going to go,” Bradley said. “Lots of times, it’s really difficult to start looking at admission requirements, then seeing the reality of ‘where can I truly go, what’s a reach school, what’s a match school and what am I willing to live with as a backup.’” 

In the heat of applying for college, receiving results and senior year as a whole, finding effective stress-relieving methods can help avoid more serious and dangerous mental health concerns. Yarlagadda said it was important for her to reach out to people for advice, whether it be her parents, other adults or even friends.

“It does get difficult at a certain point,” Yarlagadda said. “But [being] surrounded by the people that appreciate you and support you, [and] having things that make you feel better [can help]. If you have core things that make you feel better, then definitely stick to those and also talk to people. If anything was bothering me, [I’d] kind of close off and not tell anyone, but reaching out to people will not only help you spill your thoughts — [you can also get] really good advice.”

In addition to finding individual hobbies to relieve stress, spending time with others is one of the top ways of managing stress. Emotional support provided by social interaction enhances a person’s  psychological wellbeing while also helping those find healthy ways to cope with stress. 

“Go to the senior events,” Bradley said. “Even if you think they’re hokey, go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; you never get to be a senior in high school again. Spend that time with these people when you can and go to all the events. Do [all] the things, so when you look back on it, you have a little bit more of a positive view of high school.” 

Senior’s Advice (Q&A)

How should incoming seniors balance their stress? 

Senior Kiyaan Aly: “Do the things you’ve always enjoyed. This year, I rediscovered cooking. I had a food blog, so I started cooking again —  it’s just so much fun to do it again.”

How should juniors prepare for their senior year? 

Senior Ananya Yarlagadda: “Start applying in August. As soon as you finish junior year, that should be the one thing you focus on. Also, don’t stress about it. It’s fine, everyone is going through the same thing, but don’t be afraid to take risks. Definitely be open to taking risks and also just have fun, it’s your last year —I was all ready to leave, but now I’m like ‘[I’m going] to [really] miss these people.’

What advice would you give to those applying to Ivy League schools?

Senior Nathan Araya: “Applicants need to stick out more than others if they want to get accepted to an Ivy League school. So, my advice would be telling a student to figure out their own narrative and go as far as possible with honing that narrative. I believe that when you do this, you become more unique as an applicant, which will make you stick out more to top colleges such as the Ivy League.”

What advice would you give to other student athletes? 

Senior Paris Bradley: “Keep working on your craft in whatever sport that you do, because it’s important to try to continue to improve yourself in any way, shape and form.Don’t pressure yourself, because putting pressure on yourself can make you mess up on simple things, and stress you out for no reason when you don’t [need to be].” 


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