Early applications to college double at Urban School, prompting early stress

Sabrina Werby, Staff Writer

Call it a case of doubling down: 62 percent of Urban seniors applied early to college this year, compared with approximately 30 percent of seniors who applied early last year and fewer than 20 percent of seniors who applied early 10 years ago, according to Urban college counselor Susan Lee.

“I decided to apply early because if I got in, I thought it would take the pressure off,” said Freddy Bendekgey (’12), who was accepted early action to The University of Chicago. “I hoped that I would feel more at ease.”

“I applied early because I felt like I found a place where I could see myself for the next four years,” said Josephine Branscomb (’12), who declined to state where she applied. “All colleges are pretty great and the same in a lot of ways, so for me it more the feeling of the college than the specific programs.”

Urban seniors experienced increased stress during the fall trimester due to the rise in early applications. Instead of college stress peaking in January when most regular decision applications due, it came in November when most early applications were due.

“Everyone was really stressed,” said Bendekgey. “My friends started having intense nightmares the week before early decisions came in.”

Along with deadlines, many students felt pressure to know where their peers were applying. “Everyone had a competitive vibe that pressured people to finish their apps earlier than others,” says Chris Bonham (’12), who didn’t apply early.

While Zoe Rosenfeld (’12) didn’t find the college application process “too daunting,” she also feels that “the most stressful thing about the process by far was my peers. I feel like every day I was hearing someone complain about how stressed they were or gossiping about who got in where. I think if people minded their own business more regarding the college process, we’d all be better off.”

“My peers are incredibly beautiful, high-achieving, intelligent humans all trying to find their own rhythm as we move along in this process,” wrote Gracelyn Newhouse (’12) in an email. “But the work and the process itself has not been the difficult part for me — it has been imagining arbitrary outcomes and how they might reflect me as a student, writer, thinker, and member of the Urban community.”

In a Jan. 16 Legend survey of Urban students, 53 percent said that the college application process is too competitive. Also, 67 percent of Urban faculty and 65 percent of Urban seniors responded that a senior’s academic performance is negatively affected by the college application process.

“Homework was an acceptable casualty,” acknowledged Megan Madden (’12).

“I felt like I was doing an incredible balancing act,” says Bendekgey. “One moment I was fine, then I slipped up a little, and then everything fell apart suddenly.”

Urban’s increase in early applications clearly reflects a national trend. Most colleges have seen up to a 20 percent increase in early applications, according to a Jan. 13 New York Times article, which computed the number from the schools’ self-reported application statistics. Additionally, after four years of not offering an early application option, top universities such as Harvard and Princeton reinstated their early application programs, prompting more seniors to apply in the fall.

Applying early does have its downsides. The process usually means much more organization, stress, commitment and a potentially less desirable financial aid package. However, many seniors are pressing the submit button in November because they have a statistically better chance of getting in.

According to figures released by the respective universities, of its 4,245 early applications, Harvard admitted 722 students, an acceptance rate of 18 percent compared with 8 percent for applicants applying by the regular deadline. Of its 3,547 early applications, Princeton admitted 726 students, raising its acceptance rate from 10 percent to 20 percent. Thanks to these early admissions, if all students accepted early enroll, then Harvard filled the equivalent of 46 percent of its total spots for the class of 2016 early this year while Princeton admitted the equivalent of 58 percent.

Interestingly, the reinstatement of Harvard and Princeton’s early application programs may mean good things for other early applicants. “Because of those schools resuming early admissions, we think more of our early applicants are people who are really committed to Georgetown,” said Charles A. Deacon, dean of admissions in a Jan. 13 New York Times Article. By contrast, other top universities, such as Yale, Columbia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and Middlebury saw their early applications drop by up to 18 percent, according to self-reported application statistics quoted by the Times.

Urban’s early application trend also reflects the changing demographics of early applicants. The early application pool used to be very homogenous, mainly limited to students from elite East Coast prep schools. This year, however, colleges and universities saw a surge in applications from the West Coast, public schools, lower-income students, students of color and international students, according to Urban college counselor Suzanne Schutte.

Even though the college application process may sometimes seem soul sucking, it does have moments of redemption.

“I learned a lot through the process, truly I did,” said Newhouse. “It was stressful and oblique at times, but a growing experience nonetheless. I think, that when you look beyond the competition that it might provoke, or the elitist social constructs of what it means to be truly “smart,” that it might conjure, at its essence, the college application process is very much in keeping with Urban’s belief in self-understanding and discovery.”