Happiness & Heartbreak: The College Process

Media of Ms. Tran provided by Alejandro Izurieta ’25

Applying to college is a process that is at the forefront of almost all high school students’ minds.  The pressures of pleasing one’s parents, becoming successful, and going to a “prestigious” school are all prominent concerns for Grace students. Yet these worries apply to all high school students in the country. The question lies in the discrepancies in the applications of students attending schools that significantly vary in resources, student-teacher ratios, and overall educational support. Many Grace students discuss the extra pressure they face due to the competitive nature of our school. Since students are competing at high levels, many wonder whether this competitive nature makes it more difficult to get accepted by their top universities.

Ms. Tran, the associate director of the college office who previously worked in admissions at Wesleyan University and Bates College, gave insight into these discrepancies. When asked about the main differences between public and private school applications, she said that counselors and teacher recommendations are one of the most significant contributing factors. Private schools like Grace are often much smaller than larger public schools, such as Brooklyn Tech or Bronx Science.

This size difference leads to the letters of recommendation from private schools being much more personal. If an application reviewer is reading a letter of recommendation from a public school, they are aware of the fact that counselors and teachers must also write recommendations for the remaining students in each respective grade. Due to the large class size and increased difficulty for counselors and teachers to connect with each student on a personal level, the letters are usually much more general. These letters, therefore, differ from that of private schools, which are supposed to closely reflect the nature of the student. 

Similar to recommendations, almost every aspect of the college process is reviewed considering the context of the school. Just as the importance of recommendations is altered based on whether the school is private or public, other aspects of the college process are also extensively evaluated depending on the school. 

Ms. Tran makes it clear that two applications are never compared to one another. Instead, they are reviewed individually, understanding the resources and rigor of each school. For example, as Grace does not offer advanced placement classes, a senior will not have APs on their report cards, and colleges recognize that we do not offer them and will not fault that student in comparison to a student who took multiple AP classes at a different school. When applying to college, it is crucial to understand that admission departments review each student’s transcript and curriculum in accordance with the school they attend. 

Ava Andrews ‘22, a first-year student at the University of California, Berkeley, explained, “The stresses I faced was getting into somewhere that, you know, I guess was my top choice initially, but when people say, you trust the process and it’ll all kind of work out in the end. I know it’s really hard to hear that, and even harder to believe it, but I’m having a great time here.” 

Though the college process can be highly stressful and overwhelming, the college advisors here at Grace provide extensive support. 

In addition to this support, many students have found comfort in the fact that numerous schools are test-optional. 

Ava continued to explain, “The SAT was terrible. I took that four times, but then didn’t even end up using that on my UC application … I don’t regret spending all that time studying and taking those tests, but it is kind of annoying that I didn’t even get to use it for this application.” 

Ava’s insightful words demonstrate that, although many upperclassmen have been taking the SAT or ACT, one’s score does not determine where they go to school. 

Most high school students feel pressured to begin a process that feels life-changing. Although this fear is valid and reflects the systems in place today, to compare oneself to others and focus solely on one’s grades and test scores is unhealthy. As the college counselors and past Grace students conveyed, if students work to their fullest potential, all will end up at the school they are meant to be at.