To Tell or Not to Tell

College competition is an inevitable part of many upperclassman’s lives. Preparing for college is a taxing process, and having the additional layer of competition among peers and friends can be stressful.


Every senior has experienced it: the looming pressure from parents, teachers, counselors, and peers about their college admissions process.
It feels like the most important decision of a senior’s life, and as if one misstep could compromise all their hopes and dreams. Aside from the emotional strain of putting one’s heart on one’s sleeve for college admissions officers, students are battling whether they should share their college list.
The question is, should seniors share where they are applying, especially at a small school like us where it may turn into a competition?
It’s hard to get into college. With the increasing competitiveness of college admissions across the country, the standard of a “good student” is ever increasing. How are seniors supposed to keep up?
It seems that to get accepted, students need to cure COVID-19 or win the Nobel Prize.
Having good grades and being a good person isn’t enough to cut it anymore.
With this increasing standard comes increased pressure to one up a peer. Little things that could get you in the door, such as glowing teacher recommendations and school awards, are what could set you apart from your peers—but every student is striving for these titles too, causing riffs and rivalries among classmates and even friends.
When students apply to the same colleges, competition and comparisons are inevitable; in a school of our size, there are bound to be overlaps in the schools that students are applying to.
“It is intimidating applying to some of the same schools my friends are applying to because you never know—it’s competition among one another,” senior Paloma McKean said.
But the question remains: does keeping your list a secret benefit you?
Director of College Counseling Matt Struckmeyer said, “Keeping confidential where one is applying is generally preferable, but sometimes it’s impossible to achieve. If one is the only applicant from a given high school, one can’t be compared to others from the same school, implicitly or otherwise.”
“All that can really be said is if one were the only Laguna senior in a given pool, in a given year, that has some desirable characteristics to it.”
The choice to tell people where you may be applying is a personal decision. There is a common misconception that there can be no more than one applicant from a given high school admitted to a selective college—this is not necessarily true.
As Struckmeyer said, “It is possible for more than one Laguna student to get into the same school.”
“Admissions officers almost always start the process with finding reasons to admit students, and it’s only when it gets to committee, when they’ve already made a broad based appraisal of who is realistic,” Struckmeyer said.
“They call it shaping down the class—that’s when it’s no longer in the hands of the admissions officer who is excited, it’s more in the hands of the committee who is then instituting tough, institutional priorities.”
This is where racial and geographical “quotas” come into play.
Schools want representation from all people across the 50 states, so they have a specific limit on the number of California students they can admit—and it doesn’t help that California is the most populous state.
The committee goes through the stack of students with potential, and starts ticking boxes for specific demographics.
“Typically if there are two or three profiles that are very distinct from each other, they are not going to be held up side-by-side; there are going to be different letters of rec, there are going to be different awards, they’re going to have different kinds of achievements,” Struckmeyer said.
“It’s just when, necessarily, they get shoved closer together, it’s all but inevitable.”
Though it is easy to fall into the self-doubt spiral, questioning the distinctiveness of your application, especially among peers who inevitably will be taking the same classes and engaging in similar activities, it is important to remember that each student has defining characteristics.
“Everyone has different things that set them apart from each other so I try to just focus on myself and what I’m doing and I try not to think about others,” senior Julianna Sey mour said. “I know I have my ‘things’ that set me apart and someone else might have something that’s more focused towards what they want to learn and study.”
When comparing oneself to others, it’s essential to keep this in mind.
“I don’t go out advertising [the schools I want to attend], but if someone asks, I will tell them,” senior Evan Davis said.
“So, I’m pretty relaxed on that. I don’t really see a reason not to; I’m not trying to play strategically or stop anyone from applying to any colleges which I’m applying to.”
Although, when there are similar profiles of students, there will be quite a few parallels in their applications.
For example, if you had two equally qualified STEM students, their courses, awards, test scores, and teacher recommendations are going to be somewhat similar.
In these cases, admissions officers often pick apart things as small as the wording in teacher recommendations to make the decision.
If Laguna students applying to the same school have similar interests, they’re more likely to be directly compared to each other.
Are there any benefits of telling your peers where you are applying? Telling peers where one is applying can be a relief. It can be a weight off students’ shoulders, allowing them to go through the grueling process of college admissions with their friends who are in the same boat.
Not only is the college application process complicated, but it’s also long.
Many students begin brainstorming essays in the spring of their junior year and often don’t finish applying to schools until January of their senior year.
The almost yearlong process is spent next to friends at school. Sharing application decisions helps students find institutions they are interested in; individual research is a given, but word-of-mouth is often the best way to scope the “type of school” a college is.
A great way to get this word-of-mouth information is talking to friends who are in the same process. This isn’t the only benefit of sharing your list.
By sharing where one is applying, peers can be open and honest going through the admissions process, rather than pitting against each other.
“And so, this is not persuading anyone to not apply to your dream school, it’s just to keep in mind that you’re probably going to shine brightest without those side-by-side comparisons,” Struckmeyer said.