Welcome to Decision Day, when high school seniors choose which college to attend and send in deposits to secure their place. It’s supposed to be the fun part — the reward for all those long nights spent writing papers, cramming for tests and putting the finishing touches on science projects. But with more students applying to a larger number of schools than ever before, the May 1 deadline to formally accept an offer of admission from just one of those colleges comes with its own set of anxieties.
Applying to more schools just makes everything worse,” says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Lessand a psychology professor at Swarthmore College. “Assuming you apply to six schools and get into three, it’s a hard decision — you beat yourself up and you’re full of regret and doubt about whether you made the right choice. If you apply to 15 schools and get into eight, well, all that does is triple the problem.” Schwartz says, as a result, most students end up feeling tortured while they are making the decision and dissatisfied no matter what they choose in the end. “When you have lots of colleges to choose from — even if you make the right choice — you’ll spend your time, anytime you have a bad day, thinking at Swarthmore, ‘Well, if I was at Yale I wouldn’t be having a day like this,’” he says. “It ends up undermining people’s enthusiasm and then it becomes self-fulfilling.”