Calming down college application crazyness

“But,” you complain upon reading the title, “it’s not even application season yet! Doesn’t that start in the fall?”

“Nevertheless,” I respond with a sigh, “next year’s seniors are already obsessing about them.”

It seems that these baby boomer’s children, who are so many in number and so high-performing, have crammed all they can into the high school years. In many high schools, the number of required credits has risen dramatically in the past ten years, to say nothing of the optional and test-out credits that driven high school students rack up. And then there are the numerous extra-curricular activities: sports, theater, band, music, volunteer, church, jobs, internships, etc. Nothing else is left. For these top-performing high school students, there are no more hours into which to cram resume padding activities in those four short years. (Notice we’ve even started calling them “resumes” rather than “college applications.”)

The craziness abounds. And even still, because the children of the baby-boomers who are trying to get into college are so numerous, even with these extremes of early achievement and perfect 4.0’s (and even higher for the majority who take AP courses) and perfect SAT and ACT scores, there are plenty of very qualified and deserving students not getting into the colleges of their choice. There has been plenty written about this over the past few years. So I am going to assume that you, Gentle Reader, need no more introduction to the craziness that is the college applications process as it currently stands.

Rather, I am going to propose a solution for you crazed families out there.


It seems simple, but it is deceptively hard. And what I am suggesting is actually somewhat more complicated. I am suggesting that your teenager take the year following high school off. Not to sit around and chill and play computer games, but to learn about the world from a new perspective: that of a non-student. Volunteer full-time at charities. Travel if funds allow in order to learn another language. Do some theater at the local theater rather than high school theater. Intern in DC or your state capitol for a Senator or a Representative. In short, take part in the real adult world rather than the contrived world of high school.

But most importantly, make sure that what seemed like a good idea as a career path in high school still seems like a good career path when you’re actually doing it. Far too often an idealistic 17 year old will decide on a college major based on a favorite high school course. And it is common for high school students to be drawn to their favorite courses not because the topic inherently resonates with them, but because the teacher was particularly good at reaching them.

So take a year off. Breathe deeply of the real world, where both the privileges and the responsibilities are higher and more rewarding than they are in high school. You’ll be prepared to return to the mecca of possibility that is higher education and truly take advantage of all it has to offer.

(Plus, for those of you who are having a hard time looking beyond getting into the college of your choice, this process will set you apart in the application stacks.  Trust me.)

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I had a great experience going to junior college in between high school and “big people school.” It allowed me to experience college while still under my parents’ protection, on top of saving us a lot of money. I got to wait an extra year to apply to colleges, I only applied to two and I got into both of them.

  2. This is such sane advice; especially given the fact that the average age of our population is getting older; what’s the rush? Why do teenagers have to start the rat race so soon? I would like to see younger generations starting to opt for more balanced lifestyles, smaller homes, less cars, more thoughtful relationships…all of this is supported by a considered year or two “off” to try out the world and all the opportunities that it contains.

  3. Taking a year off would end child support and college contribution in those states where it goes past 18.

Comments are closed.