This article was written by Forsyth Central High School journalism students in partnership with the Forsyth County News.
By Jaeden Amiri-Owens and Baylor Collins
The college application season is regarded by many students as the peak of academic stress. Students compile the various parts of their school careers and gamble on colleges that thousands of others are already vying for. In the words of a Forsyth County student, “I would cry sometimes… I had no one to help me, and there was so much due.”
Applying to college has become increasingly competitive and simultaneously more difficult, partially because the process varies by state and college.
Although there are certain organizations which attempt to make the process more standardized (such as the Common Application), many students do not choose to use these methods because their target colleges do not accept them or the students feel that they will be valued less.
In addition, students are taking more and more Advanced Placement classes to get ahead in this highly competitive environment. Whereas students geared to on-level classes tend to take one to three AP classes, advanced students often take as many AP classes as possible, attempting 10 or more credits. According to the College Board, the volume of AP exams taken in Georgia has doubled from 2008 to 2018.
Complicating matters is the essay process, which varies greatly from college to college. Some do not require essays, but many (especially more prestigious ones) do. Students struggle to write essays, as they need to convey in simple terms why they should be accepted above all others. One student described the process as “difficult and time-consuming.” The competitive pressure to be the best student with the most convincing essay is immense. Writer’s block can bog down the process even further, extending the time spent working on applications from days to months.
The overhanging fear of student debt is yet another problem for college seekers. Student loans are now the largest source of non-housing debt in America, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Consumer Credit Panel, due in large part to the growing disconnect between the cost of college and the amount of money the average American family brings in.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost (including tuition, board, fees, etc.) of a four-year degree has nearly doubled from 1989 to 2019, going from $52,892 to $104,480 (adjusted for inflation). Meanwhile, statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis show that real median wages have only increased from $54,042 to $59,039 (also adjusted for inflation) over the same period.
For better or worse, students are not blind to finances and this can greatly impact their decisions.
“I wasn’t weighing how much I wanted to go to this school,” one student said, “but I had to take into account the cost of the school more than the normal person would.”