As Berkeley High School returns to the new school year, a fresh senior class begins the infamous college admissions process, and the class of ‘23 can already feel the stress of the long path before them. It’s become clear that the process of applying to college, something that is supposed to mark the beginning of entering a higher education, ultimately serves as a disservice to students, discouraging them from capitalizing on an opportunity critical to the rest of their lives.
Most students are aware of the drastic spike in the level of competitiveness it takes to get into college over the past few decades, with UC acceptance rates plummeting. Since 1997, UC Santa Barbara’s acceptance rate went from 71.2% to 36.9%, UC Irvine from 65.8% to 29.9%, UC Berkeley from 31.4% to 17.5%, and UC Los Angeles dropped from 36.3% to just 14.4%.
The unrecognizable field makes it impossible for parents and teachers to provide their kids and students guidance from their own personal experience, making the entire process feel incredibly isolating.
Alison Guirrez, a current senior in the Academy of Medicine and Public Service at BHS commented on the issue.
“It seems like nobody really knows what’s going on, at least, not to the degree that could give us security,” she said. “Adults who try to help only know about college admissions from 30 years ago, and even people who are more similar to us in age aren’t all the way certain why they did or didn’t get into the colleges that they applied to.”
While BHS provides several resources including college counselors and an abundance of tutoring, it’s still challenging for students to navigate where they need support without taking on the responsibility of an excessive amount of work. Some students also have access to private tutors and counselors, forcing those without access into even more of a disadvantage.
The intense stress and anxiety levels sustained over such a prolonged period of time can lead to mental health issues in students, impacting their day to day well being. This calls upon students to prioritize what should be considered a basic human right, the right to education, over their own welfare.
“The constant grind of thinking about college has taken over my life since freshman year,” Guirrez said. “[The college application process] isn’t something you can back away from. It’s your whole life and you have to be able to manage it at 17. You have to know your interests and commit to it and then stick to it in order to have a successful career.”
When looking at prestigious colleges, they have become nearly inaccessible to the average student, setting an impossible standard that many students feel the pressure of. Taking multiple AP classes a year, overloading on extracurricular activities, and forcing themselves into positions of extreme stress, turns a time of self-discovery into an everyday battle. High school students, no matter how mature they may be, are still kids, and having to take on so many responsibilities marrs their last years of childhood. Because of these impossible standards, students have turned to considering alternative options to a four year college.
“I’m gonna go to BCC for two years, and then see how I feel,” Guirrez said. “I just don’t feel confident in jeopardizing my mental health for something that I don’t even really want”.
As college acceptance rates continue to slim and the competition skyrockets, the toll it takes on students’ mental health continues to drive students away from seeking a college education. We shouldn’t have to choose between success and happiness when it comes to decisions that affect the rest of our lives forever. If any progress is to be made, the college admissions process must be reformed so that students can find a balance in their lives. College admissions cannot take priority over fulfullment.