Pressure Around College

So I read this article about “elite” colleges and why you shouldn’t go them. The article is a bit dramatic at times and definitely has an agenda. But it does have some interesting points regarding how we “manufacture” students for the college application process and what happens when students arrive on campuses in the fall.
While I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think about my personal college application grooming and the ultimate result. In high school, a lot of my friends and myself went to college counselors. There were a handful in our area, but most of us barely talked about the process together with each other. We knew who went to Mrs. SoandSo and who went to Mr. Whatshisname, but it was a pretty stealth operation.

My application to Georgetown was a perfectly crafted well-rounded work of art. The right numbers. The right extra-curriculars with a handful of elected positions: government, journalism, music, and (of course) athletics. I really don’t know how we made it through high school in one piece. I will admit that I loved everything I did. I lived for the Youth in Government conferences, fell in love with rowing, had so much fun with my yearbook friends, and never wanted chorus to end! But there was always that looming pressure of getting into a good college. Even though I enjoyed what I did, I absolutely knew that the combination was going to help me (aka my resume) stand out.
… it worked. I opened a three-days-late early acceptance letter from Georgetown on December 18, 2007. I remember crying, which probably looked like happy tears from everyone else’s perspective, but they were really tears of relief. I felt like, okay I’m done, I can breathe.

I was so excited to move in!

If you’ve been reading TCP for a while, you probably already know what my freshman year at Georgetown was like.  To keep a long story short, I didn’t adjust well to college life that first semester. I had never spent any time away from my parents like that before and I only knew one person at the entire school… so there was this immediate sense of loneliness from Day 1. Then, the all-consuming feeling of failure took over. The relief I had felt nine months before then was wiped away in an instant when the pressure to “get a good job” came into the picture. The pressure to get into a good school was bad, the pressure to get into a good job was worse. While my high school was definitely competitive, Georgetown was that to an Nth degree. It absolutely crushed me.
In fact, I failed (12%!!!!) the first college midterm I ever took. Not because I didn’t know the material (I got the one question I answered correct), but because I had a terrible panic attack within ten minutes and (obviously) was asked to leave. I was so concerned with getting a perfect score that I ended up sabotaging myself.
That was, unfortunately, only the beginning. The fear of failure had turned into actual failure– if you’re going off of the grading system that is– and I spiraled out of control. (I don’t like talking about some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms I turned to because I would never want someone else to try/do/resort to it… but you can just take my word that it was not good.) I did manage to pull through it and finish the semester almost miraculously albeit not “perfectly” as I had once envisioned.
In retrospect, failing was the best thing to happen to me. (I started my blog because I needed an outlet that wasn’t class/studying!) It also immediately took the pressure off, once I got better. I had failed. The worst had happened and the world continued. It made me put college into perspective and I think I enjoyed my experience a LOT more because I wasn’t focused on driving myself into a hole of academic madness achievement in the pursuit of a “good job.” 
My unique experiences and network led me to the perfect job for my first year out of college and I ultimately turned what was my creative outlet into my full time dream job. 
I know I have a huge audience of girls in high school feeling the college pressure and college girls feeling the job pressure (and moms with daughters going through all the pressure)… with back to school right around the corner– sorry to bring it up, I know it’s still summer– I worry about the girls who are like the 18 year old Carly heading off to a more-or-less pressure cooker of a college. 
You can succeed, and will succeed, without putting a perfectionism-driven pressure on yourself. The best advice I can give is what I wish I had done before everything got rough:
– Share my concerns with my parents immediately. Don’t worry about putting on a “good face” for your parents, if you’re struggling with something talking about it from the beginning can help. It’s also just nice to know someone’s behind you no matter what from the beginning. 
– Meet with professors after the first class. When I did start struggling in an outward fashion, I didn’t have a relationship with my professors and that was their first interaction with me. If I felt more familiar with them, I think I would have been more comfortable reaching out with concerns I was having regarding tests/material from the get-go.
– Ask for help as soon as you sense something was wrong. I knew I was getting ready to go down the wrong path and kept it in. Partly because I was scared to tell anyone what I was going through and partly because I didn’t really know who to even tell. A professor? A dean? My roommate? Every college should have some kind of counseling services….. if you think something is wrong, go. (At Georgetown it’s called “CAPS”)


PS Recommended reading: Path to Passion and The Supposed Tos.

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Bailey Johnston

I'm a rising sophomore in college and I had a very similar experience just on a smaller scale. I was talking about it with my friends and we all wished that we knew one thing about first semester – that it's not going to be easy and that you'll have to learn to adapt and adjust to everything new. I actually only go to school an hour away from home but in the end that didn't change anything. There are so many new things and really you just have to learn to take everything one day at a time. It's important to keep in mind that things will change and that things will get better – eventually you'll find some of your best friends and adapt to classes and midterms even if it does take a bit of time and work.


Oh this feels like just yesterday. I am now about to be a sophomore in college and couldn't be happier with my college of choice! However, the application was definitely a stressful one. Everyone from my high school was extremely competitive when it came to test scores, grades, activities, etc. The application process was all about numbers and having the perfect story. Everyone has their own opinions about where you should go to school too. Eventually the stress and pressure just builds up. I recommend staying true to what makes you happy and where you can see yourself living for 4 years. Do what you want and not what you think you are expected to do!

Annie Belle

Greta Heun

I'm heading off to college as a freshman in 29 days and I'm scared to death. I'm also excited, but definitely freaking out…I want to thank you for the endless advice and stories that you share. I love your blog and you are such an inspiration to me, especially now that I am a college student as well!

Fiona Heath


Thanks for this article. I was recently faced with failure after I didn't pass my masters. It's taken a lot out of me emotionally and has affected my confidence. Have loved your blog for years. Your ability to put your hands up and admit you struggled but that's okay and life goes on is really helping me right now.

Thanks again

Fie x Coffee & Confetti

Ellen Borza

Thanks for the inspiring post, Carly! I failed my last final of freshman year, and I was so down on myself. It's good to have a support system for moments like that. Luckily it didn't affect the rest of my college career, and it's something I can just laugh about now.

Ellen | A Pop of Pink

Heather Boone Johnson

What I great post! I graduated a little over a year ago from a fairly prestigious mid-western university and I totally agree. I think this whole atmosphere of perfection is created and it's really hard to break out of. Even after graduation I struggled with it because I still did not know what I wanted to do when I "grew up" and it seemed like everyone around had everything so figured out. I still struggle with this and I constantly have to remind myself that it's ok! I'm only 23 and it's ok to not know everything right now, I have time and it's ok to just love where I am in life right now.
Thanks for a great post!

Gigi @ Dolce and Gabriella

I think you're so smart to write this, Carly! So many young ladies look up to you, and the fact that you can own your hardships and talk about them openly is really impressive. Your story is so helpful to people, myself included, who deal with the enormous stress and pressure to be perfect that the elite educational system puts on high performers.

I read the article too, and while I agree that the tone was a little strong, I think he has a lot of valid points about the inauthenticity of the "rat race" millennials run to get to the top. My college application was definitely manufactured. But since arriving at USC, I've taken a deliberate step back and tried to spend my time in ways that yes, might help me be successful someday, but are truly fulfilling to me on a meaningful level. I don't do things so I can say that I do them anymore, and I'm so much happier for it.

Love, Gigi
Dolce and Gabriella

Audrey Lin

This post couldn't have come at a better time! I admit that in high school, I was a lot like you. I had a college counselor and everything! Although for me, I felt my academic life falling apart a little earlier. At the beginning of senior year, I had absolutely no confidence in myself. Luckily for me, I had completed all my college applications before senior year started, so I didn't have that added pressure. Anyways, I was afraid to ask for help throughout my senior year, because, well, I never needed it before. Somehow I survived, and in February I found out I got into my ED college (so excited to start this fall! Less than a month to go!). I also cried tears of relief. During the second semester, without all that pressure I put on myself (because I got into college, I didn't need to worry anymore), I started enjoying everything so much more. I know that this is only the beginning and that college will make me face so many challenges, but with my mini-high-school-downward-spiral experience and with your helpful tips (and your own experience (thanks for sharing! Haha)), I feel ready. I'm excited for school for the first time in a long time. -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

Sydney L.

Loved reading this, Carly! I missed the stressing-over-college phase since I chose to go to a smaller, less prestigious school. I'm starting to feel that pressure about perfecting my resume for grad school and job searching.

Even though I'm only going to be a sophomore, I have no idea what I'm going to do come spring 2017! Hopefully everything will work itself out.

Toodlebelle's Blog


Thank you so much this post. I'm entering college as a freshmen next month, and although I'm excited, I'm extremely nervous. These tips are something I need to always keep in the back of my mind. It's always comforting to know that people like you (one of my inspirations!) have also gone through hard times. I know college will be hard, but I'll power through it!


Tianna Gallinaro

I really enjoyed reading this post! After my first year of college, I can definitely relate to how easy it is to feel pressure at all angles and especially inner pressure on yourself, but at the end of the day you have to kind of put you blinders on and focus on being the best "you".


I really enjoyed this post because this September I will be a senior in High School! I can't wait, I've taken the SAT's, done the clubs, the sports, the volunteer work, and other things to fill my resume and essays to be accepted to the college of my dream. I totally stress over every little thing- I read your blog from when you were in college and I am like a younger version of you! I am "like the 18 year old Carly heading off to a pressure school." I really appreciate you writing about the stress of college because for me in HUGE so thank you so much! I will be bookmarking this to look back on this when I need a little kick or when I;m job hunting!
Thank you

Denise Elliott

As a mom of five kids who all trooped dutifully off to college directly out of high school, I especially appreciate this essay. My (four) sons reacted very differently to the new experience than my (only) daughter, and that's possibly something other parents should be aware of, too. The boys didn't share the pressure they were feeling – not with me, their dad, counselors, or anyone – but it was there, and in the end all four of them dropped out after a year. Two of them chose to go to a community college for a couple of years, to pick up their Gen Ed requirements in a smaller, less pressure-filled environment, one is heading off to culinary school instead, and one decided college just isn't for him right now and is working full time. My daughter, as is her wont, communicated non-stop with me, with her dad, her brothers – anyone, really – after leaving for school, but she never wanted to talk to anyone up at school who could actually help with her (undiagnosed at that point) learning disability because she was too ashamed and didn't want to seem "weak". She still struggles with the desire to be perfect in every way and it's keeping her from finishing her degree, so I urge your readers to remember that the counselors at your school – whether psychological or academic – are there to help, they are professionals, and they will absolutely NOT judge or lecture you. Use the resources available and remember to enjoy every single day on campus: a lifetime of going to work will come all too soon, so soak up your college experience and the wonderful opportunity to learn (both in the classroom and out in the wide world)!

3 Peanuts

Great post Carly! I am sure that sharing these experiences and your feelings of loneliness, vulnerability and overcoming the failure will really help the young readers you have.

Tori Scheller

Building relationships with your professors is definitely crucial. It took me awhile to understand this, but once I started making the effort to attend office hours and schedule meetings with them, I saw that I benefitted from it in the school sense, but I could also return to them for rec letters and other guidance!

Xo, Tori @ Victoria Grace

Gabriela Giotti

Great article Carly! Truly enjoyed reading about your solutions to college pressure, considering I will be attending college in the fall. Also, I cannot help mentioning that I too participated in Youth in Government and understand how it can easily become one's life. 🙂