Drowning in college apps

American seniors feel pressured to apply to too many colleges, but modeling our college application system after the UK’s could help alleviate this stress.


Although British schools, like Oxford and Cambridge, and American schools, such as the Ivy Leagues, are considered equal in academic stature, our highly competitive American universities have much lower rates of acceptance. One reason for the higher admissions rate at Oxford is the decreased number of applicants.

Riya Jones, Staff Writer

As the time crawls closer to 3 a.m., a senior frantically types away at their computer, the glow of a half-finished supplemental essay illuminated on the screen. This essay is just one in a long line of supplementals a senior may find themselves writing come college app season. 

At Jefferson, students have been known to apply to upwards of 15 colleges in senior year, which necessitates a staggering amount of essay writing–but once that acceptance letter is earned, it all seems worth it in the end, right?

A very different scenario takes place across the pond. In the UK, students are only allowed to apply to five universities. There is one 4,000 character essay they will write and upload to UCAS (the UK version of Common App). This essay will be the one and only college essay considered by any schools they choose to send their application to. While some universities may require interviews or surveys to be filled out, the workload is far more reasonable for British applicants than American because of the five university maximum. This mandatory limit on college applications is one that Common App should consider instituting here in America.

Since the American application is more labor intensive, some might assume U.S. schools are more competitive and therefore provide a better educational experience. Ivy League acceptance odds are certainly much worse than the odds than their UK counterparts. After all, Oxford’s 17.5% acceptance rate and Cambridge’s 21% seem much less competitive than Harvard’s miniscule 4.6%. However, both Oxford and Harvard rank within the top 5 universities on the QS, Times Higher Education, and US News global universities rankings. It is fair to say these two schools are of similar caliber, yet Oxford’s rate of acceptance is much less daunting. This is because, with a limit of only five schools, students in the UK are forced to be more selective when curating their college lists, so Oxbridge does not receive as many applicants. 

In the U.S., students feel pressured to apply to as many Ivies as possible in an attempt to boost the chances of getting accepted to one of them. Ironically, this tactic of applying to so many schools, when practiced by students all across America, is actually what leads to the frighteningly small acceptance rates of many American universities.

These already microscopic odds are set to diminish even further unless some change to the American college application system takes place. The acceptance rate for the highly competitive Ivies has been steadily declining over the past five years as reported by CNN. When faced with odds like Harvard’s 5% acceptance rate or Stanford’s 4%, it’s no wonder that American seniors feel the need to apply to an abundance of colleges. Here at Jefferson, where many students are under pressure both at home and at school to gain a coveted Ivy seat, the problem is exacerbated. 

As odds decrease, students feel pressured to take more AP classes, commit to more extracurriculars, and score higher on the slew of standardized tests. Ask any Jefferson senior and they will likely agree: this amount of pressure is simply unhealthy. Placing a permanent limit on the amount of universities every student can apply to could help combat the problem of these ever-worsening odds. 

A limit could be implemented by Common App the same way it is enacted on UCAS. Considering there are far more universities to choose from in the U.S. than the U.K. (over 4,000 in America, around 150 in the UK), the maximum could be set higher than five, but putting into place some kind of limit would certainly help mitigate the stress and workload of American seniors applying for higher education.