I Want to See YA Books Treat College Applications More Realistically

When I read YA books, I sometimes get the sense that authors are not very familiar with today’s college application process. So often, they make it seem incredibly easy, as if all the protagonist has to do is pick their top school and apply. There are few mentions of “safety schools” or stories of rejection. And money? Somehow, all the protagonists who mention needing financial aid or scholarships seem to magically achieve a full ride. Are authors and publishers out of touch with the changing college landscape? Or are they simply desirous of giving characters a happy ending, no matter how realistic is it? Either way, I am not on board. I want to see stories of high school seniors going through a college application process that more closely resembles what actual teens may be going through.

One of my main pet peeves with how the college application is generally depicted is that so many protagonists seem to be intent on applying to Ivy League schools. I do not have any statistics on this, but Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia seem to be featured heavily. Other prestigious schools like Georgetown sometimes also appear. I do not know why this is–perhaps authors are just choosing schools with name recognition? But I would love to see authors feature more local schools or community colleges or even just schools they made up. Because it is not realistic that all these YA characters seem to be getting into such high-ranking schools.

It is not easy to get into an Ivy League college. A student cannot simply “work hard” or “get good grades” or “ace the SAT” and automatically get admitted into a top school like YA makes it appear (assuming the books mention grades at all). 43,330 students applied to Harvard’s class of 2023 and the school admitted 4.6%. Yale admitted 6.3% of applicants to the class of 2022. And Princeton admitted 5.8% of applicants to their class of 2023. Someone could be valedictorian, president of six clubs, and a star athlete, and still not be admitted to their top college choice with those odds. But YA books continue to write plotlines where protagonists dream of going to Harvard–and they almost always make it.

YA books also tend to make it appear like getting scholarships and financial aid is rather easy–and that these scholarships will inevitably cover the full cost of tuition. I do not think I have ever read a YA book where the protagonist was agonizing over taking out student loans or sad that the scholarship they received would barely make a dent in their tuition. In real life, however, I know plenty of people who received scholarships–sometimes multiple ones–and still graduated with debt. For perspective, the data from the class of 2018 shows that about 69% of college students took out loans. And the average student loan for the class of 2018 debt was $29,200. This means about only 31% of students will be loan-free or debt-free, but YA protagonists somehow always seem to be among this minority.

YA books also tend to ignore the details of actually applying to college. There is the agony, of course, of taking standardized tests, writing the application essay, filling out a bunch of forms, and trying to figure out all the financial aid papers. There is also the issue of application fees. Students normally need to pay just for the privilege of having someone look at their materials. Harvard, for example, currently charges $75 to apply and Yale charges $80 to apply. It would be refreshing to see some YA protagonists get upset about these outrageous fees, or go through the process of trying to apply for a fee waiver. However, I have not yet seen a single book even mention that these fees exist.

I understand that authors probably want their books to end somewhat happily, for the most part–YA readers usually want this, too. However, I think it would be not only realistic but also helpful for YA books to depict the college application process more accurately. It would give teens a clearer idea of what to expect, which would be particularly helpful for those who do not know anyone who has recently applied. They would have a clearer idea of the chances of getting into a prestigious institution, the cost to apply to a lot of schools, and the cost of actually attending. Financial literacy is not really taught in schools and many students probably are not equipped to calculate the return on investment of their college educations. It would be good for them to at least start thinking a little bit about the possibility of having to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt–and about whether their career path will actually enable them to repay it. Because, for most students, the chances of getting a full ride to their top choice is not anywhere near as likely as YA books make it seem.

What do you think? Do YA books depict the college application process accurately or realistically?

49 thoughts on “I Want to See YA Books Treat College Applications More Realistically

  1. Sophie @BewareOfTheReader says:

    That’s a very interesting thought here! In my country, going to college or uni is way ceaper than in the US, Canada..as we have about 850 USD in tuition fee and must by the books etc and rent a room or commute and that’s it. So this never seemed strange or fake in books to me but indeed, I get your point!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. femaleinferno says:

    Things are different here in Australia, we have Austudy/Abstudy where the government lends you money to attend university if you are means tested and found unable to afford the cost of attending a higher learning institution. They recover the cost from your tax returns over the years, so the debt does not affect your income and living expenses, and does not play against getting a loan for a car, or house, etc… The application process is standard across the county, you fill in an application with your first through to fourth choices, and it goes completely off your educational transcripts. I’m so greatful for the system we have here. Less stress and no crippling debt like you have described. I guess it comes down to what country the books are set in, and if set in a real place, whether that place is a fictional version or not. The college application process is usually a plot point, and what you are describing is unique to America, and a percentage of applicants wishing to go to ivy league institutions. As a teacher I would always coach my student to follow realistic opportunities; and what your describing walks that line, like some aplicants are applying for the presige of the school and have not been councelled about their application process. Everyone I know who has applied to a higher learning institution has had a mentor/councellor to help with the process. I guess growing up with a different educational system, and being in a profession where students are supported in the application process, your point is hard for me to fully understand. I feel like I’m missing something. Though I have seen what you are talking about in American television shows and movies, maybe it does not translate as well on the page. Gluts the pace of the story with too many facts? Maybe it gets edited out before publication? There may be some stories out there that depict what you are saying, but its defenetly a good topic for discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I would say the YA market is the U.S. is largely books published by American authors and set in the U.S., so I have yet to read a YA book where a teen is applying to college in a different country. I know the experience is very unique depending on where you are. Some countries you basically have to test into college, whereas anyone can go in the U.S., as long as you are willing to take on the debt. The bad thing about that is most teens don’t really have the financial literacy to understand the implications of the loans they are taking out. Some, in my experience, don’t even understand they are expected to pay the money back. So they’re definitely not looking into whether their chosen career path can even support those loan repayments.

      Mentors are not very common in the U.S., either. Technically most schools have college counselors, but I have yet to find anyone who said those counselors were helpful. My own experience is that most of them are older and really out of touch with what the college application looks like today vs. when they applied. And most don’t have the time to really meet with students maybe more than once. Maybe it differs if you attend an expensive private high school. I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • femaleinferno says:

        It’s such a shame to hear about the higher education system you talk about in the US. It sounds fretful. But as I mentioned before most YA is marketed in fictional versions of our own, and mostly written for escapism. Editors may strike too much of the application process out of books because it changes the tone of the novel because it has too much information slowing the pace of the novel (like I mentioned before) I approached an editor I know last night and she said that it would also lessen the appeal (and market demographic) of a novel which is why most publishers shy away from this kind of material. So it’s most likely the gatekeepers of YA preventing a more realistic description of the application process out of YA. She said the main reason young people read fiction is to escape and get inspired, they spend all day at school learning and more realistic fiction does not perform well in the market. Another interesting take on this issue. I guess without the struggles and issues being in the forefront of the novel for the protagonist, most traditional publishers would edit that kind of material out.
        Id’ be interested to see worldwide figures of university applicants (and those successful in getting in) versus the number of US YA novels with protagonists going through the same experience in a global scene – just to get a concept on the percentage this represents on the market. It might support or challenge the traditional publishers stance on this issue.
        I sent out a poll to my English students (a pool of approx 250 people) about if they would rather a more realistic view of the US higher learning application process reflected in their reading, I only got 5 students voting for the affirmative – keep in mind this is Australian students, so the results are dramatically skewed) The resounding tone of the answers were that they would not be interested in novels about the college application process because they deal with it enough in real life. Interesting point. I guess this issue tends to become more important to readers who have already lived through the experience and want to pass on the knowledge in some form, (or relive the memories) yet those who are living the experience tend to stick their head in the sand. What is it some parents say about teenagers – they know everything. LOL
        This would be a great discussion to bring up in a book convention talk panel.

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        • Krysta says:

          Well, I think the process can be handled realistically without taking over the book. For instance, in Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, the college application essay is always in the back of the protagonist’s mind as she wonders what she can possibly say that will get her into her first choice. That’s not the same as writing a book that’s a play-by-play account of a character taking the SATs, taking them again, writing a rough draft of an essay, getting someone to review the draft, revising the draft, revising the draft again, submitting the essay, filling out the FAFSA, and so on. There are degrees of realism and I think it would make sense just to 1) mention that these things are happening in the background even in passing, such as, “She spent the night studying. She needed to do well on this test” and 2) be more realistic with the colleges protagonists are aiming for. I think you can still have an inspirational book where the character gets into a local college of their choice, rather than Harvard or Yale.

          I also think you can have an inspirational/escapist book where the protagonist looks at the costs of schools and realistically decides not to bank their whole future on only sending one application to a top tier school where they would need a full ride to attend. Just having them send out five or six applications so they can “review their choices” when the offers come in would be more realistic and would not, I think, be too depressing for teens going through the same process.

          In short, “more realistic” doesn’t have to equal “a detailed instruction manual on applying to college” or “super depressing.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • femaleinferno says:

            I understand your point, but you seem to be instead arguing with the real research I looked into with industry professionals and real readers of the demographic. I agreed with your point and even stated that there needs to be a discussion about it. I never mentioned detailed instruction manual on applying to college. I’m actually feeling very attacked right now.

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            • Krysta says:

              I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel attacked. I meant to address the publishing industry’s seeming assumption that “realistic” means “depressing.” I think that a book is only as depressing as you write it. An author could conceivably write a book about someone very excited to get into community college, right? It doesn’t have to be written as, “Betsy applied to Harvard, but instead got stuck going to the local school.” It’s all about the perspective the author gives. And so I was confused that the publishing industry would seemingly make a blanket statement that “Realistic books will not sell because they’re not escapist enough.” I didn’t mean to imply that you were wrong or didn’t do your research. I’m sorry you were hurt.

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  3. Michael J. Miller says:

    Teaching high school seniors and watching them struggle through all the stress and frustrations of the college application process every year, I wholeheartedly second this. I imagine, in addition to all the brilliant pros you list above, it would also yield a more interesting plot. To truly touch on the struggles, pitfalls, and occasional despair of applying to college would HAVE to make for a more compelling story than sauntering into Harvard after a few trite mishaps or what have you. Also, I think it could prove quite powerful if an author could take the story of a student struggling with the cost of tuition, navigating all the stressors of numerous applications, not getting into their dream school and still present a happy, if unconventional, ending. Because those struggles and those “defeats” often prove important teachers for us.

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s a good point! If a protagonist has to agonize over hard decisions, it tends to be a lot more interesting than what we usually get, which seems to be the protagonist sending off their letter at the start, worrying about it a bit in the middle, and then ending happily ever after with their admission. But you could add a lot drama in there if you wanted!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mitsuki says:

    What an interesting issue to discuss, I never would’ve thought of this! There’s definitely growing social concern (in the U.S. at least) about the fact that we continue to ask high school students to make serious decisions about their futures, even though these decisions are increasingly pricey and can come with an uncertain ROI. And often, there isn’t much support for the mental and emotional pressures that come with the decision-making process–before, during, or after. While I ended up at a college that I love, I wish that I had had something more to help me sort through the maelstrom of personal stress that accompanied the process. The parts of the Anne of Green Gables series where Anne goes away for school, for example, were a treasure for me in those late high school years, even if they didn’t have a lot to say about the SAT. 🙂

    On a related note, I recently read “Vita Nostra” by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, and even though it’s a fantasy novel (and rated a little above YA), one of the things I appreciated most about it was its incorporation of some of the “mundane” aspects of high school and college life: test anxiety, college prep, friction at home, skipping class, nights out. As a college student, I was surprised by how much it resonated with me to read a protagonist approximately my age, going to school and struggling with some of the same daily anxieties. So I think I would be interested in seeing a YA contemporary take on those questions more directly (as you pointed out, plot points that revolve around fees, applications, financial aid, etc.)! Even beyond the question of helping to set realistic expectations for YA readers, there’s so much natural tension and diversity of experience in the high school to college transition period that there must be better, richer stories waiting to be told!

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s a really good point! Sometimes we read for escapism, of course, but it’s also nice to be able to relate to a character experiencing the little things of life. I do really enjoy the Anne books and how they depict growing up and how that feels–exciting, but also a little scary. We are used to young Anne being in her element at home, but when she’s off to school, she has to find new friends all over again and figure out where she fits in. That’s very relatable, even if her school experience is not the same as today’s in other aspects.

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  5. salonimore1702 says:

    YES. I definitely agree and whenever I read YA books, I always find myself reminiscing about the good old days when, really, there was a LOT more studying than drama! And getting stressed over essays and test scores! The only YA novel I’ve read which has done a pretty good job of showing this is “You Asked For Perfect.” Although I love the romances and friendships that YA has, I much prefer reading something more realistic as it’s more relatable and makes me feel less alone.

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    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes when I read YA books, it’s easy to forget the characters are even going to school because they never seem to have homework or tests or any thoughts at all. Except about the dreamy boy next door. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. thepunktheory says:

    This is so wild in America.
    In Austria, you don’t have to “apply” for the regular universities. You just sign. For a couple of subjects that are extremely popular, you have to take a test and only the best people get in. Otherwise, it’s extremely uncomplicated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer says:

      See, that would be really useful to know for American readers so we know which country to immigrate to 😉 honestly it seems like the US is just way behind on higher education worldwide anyway

      Liked by 1 person

      • thepunktheory says:

        Definitely! Also, university in Austria is (mostly) free. If you are a EU citizen all you pay is 20 euros per semester (which is insurance related I believe). If you are from outside the EU, you pay 363 euros per semester which is very reasonable priced.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer says:

          Absolutely reasonable for sure. I’ll have to look into how they’re funded and staff is paid and whatnot, because I’m curious about where other countries find the balance that we are apparently missing.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

        I’m sure this depends partly on the country, but I’ve read the differences are partially due to tracking (which we don’t do in the US; likely a disproportionate number of poor students and minority students would be put on the vocational track vs. the university track in the US if we did) and because the US has this whole “university experience” where you live on campus and have wild things like rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks, etc. you can access. In other countries you might commute from home and mostly just…go to class for college. I’m sure there are other reasons college costs so much here, and likely some are stupid and unnecessary, but I found that interesting to read.

        Also the whole “holistic admissions” thing vs, the “best people academically” that we have. On one hand, it gives people hope they can get into Harvard with good but not great grades just because they’re an athlete or play an instrument Harvard needs in the orchestra. On the other hand, it gets used to discriminate against students. So you reject Jewish students or Asian students with stellar grades and point at holistic admissions and say they have boring extracurriculars or didn’t interview well. :/

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer says:

          Ohhh, that makes a lot of sense. When I attended and lived on campus, it cost about half my tuition just for the room and board. Versus commuting to classes, I’m sure that would have been a lot cheaper. Probably more like the local colleges near where I grew up.

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          • Krysta says:

            And now the covid-19 pandemic has colleges admitting that the money you pay for room and board doesn’t strictly go there, but is used to pay for other operational costs of the college. So even though students haven’t been living on campus or eating there for months, some colleges won’t refund the money.

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  7. jawahirthebookworm says:

    100% agree with your post. The journey to college is not an easy one, and it shouldn’t be this side line thing that you can get over with like Math’s homework. The university scene in my country is completely different, however the pressure to get into a good college, earn a good degree, etc is a universal concern shared by all students regardless.

    In my country we have both public university where admission is free of charge (you even get a student salary; it’s a way for the government to aid expecting graduates who are entering the market), and private universities where tuitions vary and where if eligible you can get a scholarship to cover a significant amount or the full tuition.

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  8. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    I agree with you. I have noticed the same thing and I often wonder why not include other colleges that are not Ivy league or real famous and cover the story of students that are normal going in normal school who don’t have enough money and are struggling in life. When I read how difficult it is to get admissions in other countries, I feel grateful I grew up in India where fees are not exorbitant if you get admission based on your scores and even get stipend that can pay half of college fees.

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    • Krysta says:

      A lot of the comments are suggesting maybe the YA books are supposed to be pure escapism. Maybe we’re all supposed to keep dreaming going to an Ivy League college free is within reach? I don’t know! Personally, I find it silly, but maybe it sells.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. rsrook says:

    To be honest, most YA seems to be more concerned with selling a sort of romanticized, escapist fantasy than a reflection of the actual lives of young people. Some of them honestly read a lot like telenovelas to me. I suspect this is probably the result of publishers beginning to play more to the adults who read YA than the young people that category purports to be written for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Yes! A lot of YA does seem more escapist than realistic! And that has its place. But it would be nice for teens to see their struggles written about realistically on occasion, I would think!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    I’ve been enjoying the comments about college admissions in other countries, but I’m honestly struggling to think of contemporary YA books I’ve read that are not set in the US. Mostly I read fantasy/sci-fi/historical fiction, so that may be partially on me, but I can think of two books I’ve read that were set in France–with Americans as sort of exchange students–and that’s it. Which is to say I think it’s fair to frame this as “YA getting US college admissions wrong” because that’s where all the books I’ve read seem to take place.

    I also wonder if college admissions are so complex and time-consuming that authors feel it would “take over the book” if they portrayed it accurately. Who has time to enter a baking competition and research their family history and fall in love with a vampire when they’re taking the SAT’s three times and writing 6 admissions essays and figuring out financial aid????

    Liked by 2 people

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I can’t think of a single YA book with a college student applying to a college not in the U.S. They could be out there, of course, but I don’t know of them.

      It’s a good point that applications could take over the book, but I think books are good at kind of hand-waving the timeline. All you have to say is, “He stayed up all night doing homework” now and then or “Writing the application essay was stressful,” and people aren’t really going to question how he also found time to fight zombies and take the SAT and fall in love, probably.

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  11. Natasha says:

    Although I don’t read a lot of YA books, I do agree that YA books should have at least hints of the struggles of the US senior year. Can we stop pretending it’s all cupcakes and rainbows? Your whole senior year is prep work for the following year. SATs, college applications, scholarships, and internships. I’ve heard of juniors starting this process! Any book is more enjoyable when you feel that you aren’t the only person feeling this way, even if it’s sad or upsetting. Do YA authors think young readers need an escape from our harsh world or are they just out of touch? I would love to have read a realistic college book when I was younger. My parents didn’t go to college so I had to figure out this journey own my own and I’m still paying for my financial mistakes 10 years later. I fully support writing about these issues and would purchase these for my daughter when she’s of that reading level.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think it would be so helpful for more books to portray the application process more realistically! In my experience, college counselors do not adequately explain the process, and most teenagers do not have a good understanding of financial literacy or ROI. The colleges themselves kind of just shuttle students through signing for loans because, really, they don’t care what kind of debt the students take on as long as the school continues to get the money. I have met plenty of college students who didn’t even understand the difference between a loan or a grant, and didn’t realize they were responsible for paying one back. It’s really very scary and I think the high schools and the colleges both need to do better. Financial literacy is important and it needs to be taught, not assumed.

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  12. Dorothy | starlit shelves says:

    I completely agree! I had my heart set on what I thought was my dream college, went through some drama during the acceptance process in which one of the deans was a complete jerk (they sent me a letter accepting me, and then another saying they actually hadn’t). I ended up going to my safety school and loved it! In the moment, it was the end of the world, but three years after getting my degree I don’t have any regrets.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. addynikitabooks says:

    Omg yes! Great discussion! I agree with all of your points and more. From personal experience, I did not have much help from my school in educating me in the process of filling out forms, picking the right school, getting waivers for applications, etc. I had to navigate most of it on my own and as a first gen student, I was completely clueless. We did have a “college coordinator,” but whenever I tried asking for help she brushed me aside or made it seem like it should be common knowledge. (For example, I was filling out an application and had no idea what the difference between a BS or BA degree. I asked for help and all she said was “I don’t know just pick one. Doesn’t matter”).

    Quite frankly I would much rather read realistic experiences even if it is just fiction. If I were in high school all over again, I would gain comfort in reading about a character going through the same thing as I am rather than reading how they got a “full-ride” scholarship to the prestigious school of their choice.

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    • Krysta says:

      I have yet to hear from anyone who said their college counselor was helpful, but, I’d like to think there are some are some good programs out there somewhere!

      Sometimes I do find it annoying how easy things are for characters. Oh, so you never studied the whole year. You just mooned over the boy next door and went out partying, but now you magically got into Princeton? Hurray? The least the author could do is write a few sentences here and there to the effect of, “Concentrating on math homework was hard when she could see Kevin’s light on next door.” Give me some reason to believe the character turned in an assignment every now and then, haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. richa says:

    CAN I STAMP THIS POST ON MY FACE???????

    first off, i can understand WHY ya books spend little to no time on it — it’s because it’s boring and more often than not has no relevance to the plot. like… do we really want to read about our main character struggling through essay after essay and bouncing around to extracurricular after extracurricular trying to do whatever can make them get into college when we COULD be reading about well… the actual plot of the story??

    BUT. BUT. as someone who goes to a school somewhat mentioned in your post, i have to say. IT TAKES SO MUCH WORK TO GET INTO THOSE SCHOOLS. SO MUCH. so i do tend to get very annoyed when main characters don’t do anything and they just magically get into harvard or yale (and especially columbia no its not just because they waitlisted me shhhh). so i do think that they should be talked about a little bit more. i don’t think that there should be THAT much time spent on it, but like… I know my senior year of high school everybody spent first semester STUCK on their college apps.

    i also think that it’d be nice to feature other local schools just because ivy league shouldn’t be the dream?? like… in the end, shouldn’t higher education be the goal? of course it’s good to get into better colleges, but there’s nothing wrong with going to a state school / less prestigious private university. what matters is your drive and sometimes you just won’t get into ivy leagues but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be unsuccessful. i wish YA would emphasize that message a little bit more. and i know so many talented people who just didn’t make it into ivy leagues… but that’s okay, because they’re still successful! like that was the main part that i liked of the third book of TATBILB that there WAS realism in the college admissions process. it was so relatable and refreshing.

    1000% agree on the fee waiver. i know how much money applying cost me. and with the SATs — nobody ever talks about going to a SAT tutor, for example, when most of the people I know (keep in mind I live in an affluent community) had tutors!!!

    liked this post a lot, in case you couldn’t tell ❤

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    • Krysta says:

      I think the college application process could be present, but a side plot or in the background, and that would make it more interesting. Kind of like how we know Harry Potter goes to school because J. K. Rowling mentions homework assignments and he attends class, but it’s still interesting because the main point is defeating Voldemort, not Ancient Runes. I think you could have a plot where the protagonist is still saving the local wildlife or solving a mystery or falling in love and throw in references to the college application now and then. Or write scenes like where the character is studying for the SAT and that’s the setting for her to find another clue to the mystery or interact with her crush. Books are pretty good about hand-waving the time. We never really question how Harry manages to do school work and save the world at the same time (though at least we know his grades aren’t that good as a result!).

      Oh, yeah the SAT tutor could be a good reference, too! Maybe the character goes to tutoring and meets someone there who advances the plot? I think a good writer could make the college application realistic but not overly mundane.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I went to a college where nearly everyone was wealthier than me, and I still can’t get over the time I was at an event and everyone started talking about their private SAT tutors as if…everyone just has one of those and this wasn’t weird. I just showed up to the SAT and took it!!! :p

      Liked by 1 person

      • richa says:

        yes definitely!! you are right — I remember reading First & Then by Emma Mills and a solid part of the storyline revolves around applying to college and I was thinking wow that was so refreshing!!! because the MC isn’t aiming for the ivies but she’s still satisfied with what she’s accomplished and treats it as one.

        and yes Briana, I agree!! I never had a SAT tutor but like everybody I know had one. it was like this whole thing, i know multiple friends that asked me to try to get a group tutoring thing going bc like EVERYONE had them so that could also totally play a part in stories. so much could happen!!!

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  15. Kay @ Hammock of Books says:

    YES. I applied to college in 2018 and it took over my life. It was so stressful writing and editing and editing and editing essays for months. Honestly like 90% of the conversations I had with my friends in November were about college apps–no time for worrying about silly things like who is fake dating who or any of that nonsense when essays are waiting. Also, basically all four years of high school (or at least the last three, freshman was a little blah) were spent leading up to college–taking a ridiculous amount of AP classes junior year and trying to figure out which teachers to suck up to to get letters of rec lol.

    I get so annoyed when books act like getting into elite colleges are easy. Ivies are ridiculous–basically nobody gets into Harvard, and even a lot of non ivy schools are super prestigious and hard to get into. I know people with 1500s on the SATs and 4.5 GPAs who got rejected from UCLA, and some books act like that’s a lower tier easier school to get into? I took 6 AP classes senior year and didn’t even bother applying to ivies since I knew I wouldn’t get in, you really expect me to believe this person who never studies for their pre-calc class is getting into Stanford?

    And so many YA books have protagonists basically never studying lmaoo. They seem to just chill and hang out with their friends and go on dates? No. To get into a good school, you spend hours studying, and you do that on top of extracurriculars. My junior year for some reason they scheduled prom the weekend before AP exams… I know SO many people who skipped prom to study for APs. And many of those people were rejected to ivies too.

    Also I can really tell when an author is out of touch when they describe people still waiting by their mailboxes for acceptances?? Lolll no that’s not how it works. Acceptances are sent in emails or posted online and people check on their phones in the middle of the school day.

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    • Krysta says:

      Oh, yes, that’s a good point! Even colleges that aren’t Ivy League aren’t necessarily so easy to get into! But you’d never know that from reading a YA book!

      I think studying could be easily incorporated into a plot. I think Harry Potter’s a good example because there are plenty of references to homework assignments. He goes to class. That never drags the plot down. Rowling uses those moments to advance the plot, in many cases. So why couldn’t you have a romance, for example, where the setting for the protagonist to interact with her crush is a studying session? Or maybe she writes her very personal application essay and has her crush read it, and that’s how they get to know each other more (I don’t know. Like a Pride and Prejudice moment? Misunderstandings are cleared up by writing?). Realistic aspects of teen life can be incorporated naturally, I think.

      Oh, I didn’t even think of the mailboxes. I think some colleges still send the packets, yes? But I’m sure they notify via email/online portal long before the packets arrive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kay @ Hammock of Books says:

        For sure! If we can just replace some ice cream or movie dates with study sessions where they can still have all their cute flirting… Yeah most colleges send a packet if you get accepted which will probably arrive a week or so after the email, but you always already know if you’re in by then so there’s zero anxious waiting by the mailbox irl, it’s just anxious refreshing the email haha

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Katie @ Doing Dewey says:

    I’ve not read enough contemporary YA to add much to your assessment of how realistically they depict college applications, but I agree that it would be nice to see the missing elements that you note in some YA. I also don’t actually think that’s incompatible with a happy ending. Going to a non-Ivy league school isn’t a tragedy! The amount of debt students are often required to take on is pretty tragic, but I also don’t think that amount of realistic challenge in a character’s life has to take away too much from the happiness, or at least hopefulness, of a YA ending either.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      It does seem to me that you could have a happy YA even with some of these elements! I think many students are proud to be going to college at all–it doesn’t have to be an Ivy League. And I think a character could win a partial scholarship instead of a full one and the character could still be glad about it. I don’t think the book actually has to go into the details of, “And then I signed my life away as I accepted 15 years of crushing debt” haha! It could kind of skim over that without giving the protagonist a full ride all the time.

      Like

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