The long, anxious wait

Coping with the anxiety of waiting for college decisions


Evan Abutin

The months leading up to college decisions are a stressful time for many seniors. Excessively worrying about those decisions is not worth it and can be detrimental to student well-being.

My pointer finger applied ever-so-slight pressure to my touchpad as I cautiously scrolled through one of my college applications. My eyes scanned the screen, moving left to right with the keenness of a hawk. My left hand was curled into a fist, supporting the weight of my head and the droopy, zombie-like face attached to it. 

Every time I did this, my mind would meticulously go through a mountainous mental checklist. Correct AP scores? Check. Correct Social Security number? Check. Correct essays posted under the correct prompts? Check. Within an hour, I was done.

This was a few weeks after I had already turned in that application.

In full transparency, the college application process had been one of the most stress-inducing moments in my high school journey. I sacrificed hours during summer break perusing websites and online forums to research colleges, hours revising my essays to fit into stringent word counts and hours filling out tedious questions before an application was finally ready to submit. 

Every time I slowly scrolled through the confirmation page of an application, I felt a sense of dread so powerful that time seemed to stop. Initially, I anticipated a well-deserved purge of anxiety after turning in each college application. On the contrary, I continuously relived the monotonous experience of double checking every minute detail on my applications.

Yes, everything was basically set in stone at that point, but that didn’t persuade me to halt my unhealthy obsession. I was consumed by the ominous thought that one crucial mistake could make a huge dent in my admission chancesmy future. 

In those daysand eventually weeksfollowing the submission of an application, an existential apprehension would force me to open up Common App or UC Apply in the middle of doing homework. During the most spontaneous moments of the day (or night), I would double check again, again and again. 

Occasionally, I even spent my time watching YouTube videos of previous applicants revealing their stats and the decisions made by their colleges of choice, mentally assessing my own probability of being accepted. These videos plagued my search history. I paid frequent visits to College Confidential, where hundreds of posts could be found with the stats of previous applicants.

The reason for my rumination could be summed up simply: I didn’t want all of my hard work to go to waste. I had spent my high school career endeavoring to maintain the best grades I possibly could, delivering speeches in front of audiences on Saturdays and dedicating myself to student journalism.

And I’ve loved doing those things. Whether it be in my academic history, essays or extracurricular sections, each of those experiences were embodied by my applications in some way. Although I certainly did not shape my high school pathway to solely appeal to colleges, I certainly wanted colleges to recognize my passion. 

Each college acceptance would open up a new road to a bright, promising destination. The last thing I would’ve wanted was for all those roads to be closed due to a blunder as minuscule as a misreported grade.

The reality was that uncertainty was inevitable, and my near-existential anxiety was derived from the fact that I was stubbornly denying that truth.”

— Evan Abutin

By this point, I was exhausted. Common App, UC Apply, YouTube videos and College Confidential tormented me with dark clouds of uncertainty that drained my psyche. Eventually I started to ask myself, “What is the point of this?” A span of several months separated me from when I would hear back from most of the colleges I applied to, so a long wait was inescapable. 

The most painful part was that I couldn’t do anything.

However, that pain may have been my saving grace, as it helped me come to a much-needed revelation. The reality was that uncertainty was inevitable, and my near-existential anxiety was derived from the fact that I was stubbornly denying that truth.

With some serious introspection, I decided to make a pact with myself to not look back at my college applications or compare myself with previous applicants. No matter what transpires, I’ve accepted that it does notin any shape or formdefine me.

An acceptance or rejection does not define anybody else, either. An acceptance or rejection is just indicative of one decision, from one specific group of people, during one specific time and place. Ultimately, there is no way for admissions officials to make a clear-cut, thorough evaluation of a student’s character and aspirations by looking at a single application alone. 

As I am writing this, I can reflect on my college application process with a warm, bittersweet aura of satisfaction and gratitude rather than dwelling in a mindset haunted by the extremes. Of course my thoughts still occasionally drift towards my prospective college decisions, but I can now feel content with the hard work I have already devoted myself to. 

I am thankful for the multitude of opportunities I’ve been granted, as well. Through this entire process, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the privilege to apply to several top-tier institutions and be guided by a robust support system of teachers, administrators and family members. Not everybody has that privilege.

By early April, I will hear back from all the colleges I applied to. Whether my decision letters include a triumphant “Congratulations!” or the dreaded “We are very sorry,” I will not take them as indicators of my self-worth. As my college decisions inch closer and closer, I won’t expend a penny of my energy reaching for airlooking at my old applications for no rational reason. Whatever happens is what was meant to happen.