I am an old biddy and sometimes it is hard to resist acting like one, as in saying "Back in the day it was so much better because..." but this is my blog so I will indulge this urge. Anyway, back in the day there was a lot less pressure about applying to college and getting in. I did not worry about it too much until my junior year of high school, when I began to get deluged with mail after I took the PSAT. I then compressed all my college choice stress into a one-year period and was admittedly a a bigger intellectual snob than I have ever been before or after. However, thanks to a multitude of factors it is much worse today, and it starts much earlier. I am glad I am a old biddy and did not have to deal with this level of stress (or Facebook) when I was a high strung teenager.
The colleges encourage this, of course, because the more applications they get and the higher their rejection rate is, the better it is for their rankings, and that leads to yet more applications. There have even been allegations that some places overuse the wait list just to make their admit rate lower. But of course, it means very little. If everyone is applying to 20 schools, of course they're going to all get more applications. I hear lots of whining about how much harder it is to get into college now but strangely I don't hear any comments that students are better prepared. Quite the opposite, actually.
Today one of Missy's coworkers ("D") and her son ("M") visited on a college tour of various East Coast campuses, including my current employer and my graduate alma mater. They were very fixated on ranking schools and departments (much more than I remember being, and I was pretty fixated on it back in the day), and from my surfing of the internet and general reading I get the impression that this is pretty common, like your entire life is going to be determined by where you go to college. Of course, it isn't, unless you dream of working for a brokerage firm on Wall Street, in which case you have to go to Harvard and that may be one reason the financial meltdown was as bad as it was. Anyway, I told them that there are a lot of good schools and in my experience it is way more important to find a school that is a good fit and be happy, rather than go somewhere you don't like which is ranked higher. There were other things I didn't say, like nepotism has its advantages, but grad school nepotism is way more useful than undergrad nepotism, which means very little in the sciences. Or that M might do a 180 shift on his major and life plan, or he might not get in to some of his top choices, or that the financial aid package for one place might suck and tip the decision in favor of somewhere else, or that everyone I know from Harvard dropped out of grad school, or that the vast majority of people stay relatively close to home (e.g. a long day's drive) for college.
So, students of America, take it from an old biddy. Don't stress too much about this whole college application process. Really.