From the moment Bridget Brown walked through the doors of Wellesley High School as a freshman, she felt the pressure to succeed bearing down on her.
Wellesley students are expected to attend top colleges and universities, Brown said, so she spent the next three years studying, working, and participating in extracurricular activities that she hoped would help separate her from the rest of the pack.
“Everybody is very college oriented,’’ Brown said. “After high school, you go to a good college. You are told that everything counts now. Even as a freshman, you feel it.’’
But now, the 17-year-old senior is in the home stretch, narrowing her options, finishing her application essay, and visiting a few more schools as she looks for a place to study communications and broadcast journalism.
She is grateful for the guidance she’s received through mandatory college planning classes and meetings with counselors.
“I definitely feel prepared,’’ she said. “But no matter when you start, it’s going to be nerve-racking. It’s scary to think that this decision affects the rest of your life.’’
Among last spring’s graduates from Wellesley High, 97 percent went on to secondary education; their landing spots include Harvard University, Yale University, Dartmouth College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The high school’s profile describes Wellesley, home to three colleges, as “a community where academic excellence and cultural traditions are highly valued.’’
“There are a lot of kids going to good-name schools and people are really driven by that,’’ Brown said. “It’s stressful but it’s good in that it motivates you.’’
Brown describes herself as a good student who has played volleyball and softball, served as junior class secretary, and been part of the Key Club, a community service group. She works as a hostess at a Bertucci’s restaurant.
“This whole time you’re working so hard, but you tell yourself it will look good on a college application,’’ she said. “But I did it because I was interested in it too. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.’’
Julie Trask, director of guidance at Wellesley High, said the school has a diverse population, so counselors do their best to prepare students for whatever they choose to do after graduation. She said the process can be overwhelming and stressful for some but not for others.
“We really have all levels of preparedness,’’ Trask said. “We try to individualize the process. Some kids need a nudge and others need a pat on the back to help them calm down.’’
One source of stress, Trask said, is that students find they can’t escape talk of college, even outside of school. Whether it’s in the dentist’s office, at the grocery store or around the table at Thanksgiving, students are constantly asked about their plans.
“Not being able to escape it is really hard for the kids,’’ Trask said.
As seniors are finalizing their college lists this fall, Brown thinks she has at least one advantage over many of her classmates, since she knows exactly what she wants to do — pursue a career in communications.
Both of Brown’s parents have spent years in the industry. Her father, Peter Brown, worked at Channel 4 for 25 years, including 10 years as news director, and now serves as chief of staff to the president of Partners HealthCare. Her mother, Deb Robi, works in radio for WBUR.
Brown started the college process thinking she wanted to study print journalism because she loves to write and saw the crazy hours her father worked at the TV station. But after attending a summer program at Emerson College and doing a mock newscast in one of its studios, Brown said, she felt a connection.
“I fell in love with it,’’ Brown said. “Being able to sit at the anchor desk felt very empowering. It felt right.’’
She has put together a list of safety schools, target schools, and a few reaches based on her criteria of a small liberal arts, co-educational school in the Northeast. For many students, finances play a role in where they apply, but Brown, an only child, said other factors have been more important. She said she’s fortunate to have a college fund, so she has looked more at size, location, and school community.
On her list now is Fairfield University, Ithaca College, St. Lawrence University, American University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Hofstra University, Northeastern University, and Quinnipiac University.
She said she found her target schools through word of mouth, and research on the Naviance software program used at Wellesley High. The system allows students to enter their search criteria and comes up with a list of schools. Students can then get a sense of their chances of admission by looking at anonymous GPA and SAT scores of Wellesley students who previously applied to those schools.
Brown plans to file “early action’’ applications in November to Fairfield, Ithaca, and Northeastern, which would let her know her status earlier than the standard process but without tying her to a particular college.
She said she is not applying “early decision’’ — which would commit her to attending the school if it accepted her — because she doesn’t have a top choice yet.
“I want to keep my options open,’’ she said. “I don’t want to be bound to a school.’’
Brown has visited Fairfield and Quinnipiac, and plans to look at Ithaca, St. Lawrence, and Hofstra over Columbus Day weekend.
Like most seniors, Brown is looking forward to college but sad at the prospect of leaving friends and family behind.
“I have mixed emotions,’’ she said. “I’m excited to be on my own and experience things on my own but it’s scary.’’
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more columns, news, and tips about the college application process, go to boston.com/collegebound.