On Monday, the Biden administration issued new guidelines to colleges and universities they hope will provide more clarity about what schools can and cannot consider from future applicants.
It comes in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down Affirmative Action, meaning those universities could no longer consider race as a factor.
Donnell Kearney, a senior at Broughton High School in Raleigh, said he never thought much about affirmative action, but he's relied on the school's resources for clarity in this new landscape.
"It's been a struggle like having to really keep up with certain things and like having to be on top of everything, like grade wise, understanding what schools need, like what they're looking for," he said.
Kearney said it's been a stressful time to apply to colleges, and added he hopes to be considered for athletic scholarships, too.
"It is kind of nerve-wracking because this is my future that I have to like. I have to do something about it," he said.
The new White House guidance says schools still have latitude to recruit underrepresented applicants, and the SCOTUS ruling does not require them to ignore race entirely, either. Lindsey Ringenbach, who worked in UNC's admissions office before becoming a college advisor, said she always preaches honesty to her students.
"We want students to make sure that they are being authentic and that they use places in the application to talk about how their lived experiences have shaped their personal qualities and characteristics and who they are," she said.
Ringenbach said the essay section of a college application -- which was singled out in the Biden administration's guidance -- has become a meaningful place for students to tell their personal stories.
"We are seeing that colleges are asking students about their lived experiences in the essay questions in hopes of really getting to know students on a deeper level," Ringenbach said.
But there are concerns, too. Jenna Robinson runs the conservative-leaning James G. Martin Center in Raleigh and says while students should share what makes them unique, colleges shouldn't overstep in the questions they ask.
"Students can say whatever they want about their lived experience. It's what the college is nudging them to do. Telling them to do, kind of winking at them, you know, giving them a hint that this is what we want from you to talk about race," Robinson said.
It's a new tightrope to walk -- one Ringenbach says is all the more challenging for applicants.
"This has really impacted students in the sense that now the onus is on them to share more," she said. "And that's tough. For a 17-year-old to talk about themselves."