Applying to college is stressful. Even for the most Zen of applicants, it’s hard to ignore the reality that the acceptance letters and rejection slips from various colleges you apply to will have a massive impact on your future. Additionally, applying to colleges can be costly and is, by definition, time consuming. Taking high-stakes tests, writing those essays and chasing down letters of recommendations takes time, emotional labor and a fair bit of mental effort, and chances are you’ll be doing all of these things while also juggling high school responsibilities, social commitments or even a job. Here are some numbers to give you a little bit of perspective as admissions season heats up.
According to a study from NYU, nearly half (49%) of high school students surveyed reported feeling “a great deal of stress on a daily basis” and 31% reported feeling “somewhat stressed,” with women reporting higher levels of stress than men (60% vs 41%). Applying for college was firmly in the top three causes of stress among those surveyed, alongside the related challenges of grades and homework. However, that doesn’t mean applying to college needs to be uncomfortable. There are multiple ways to not only manage stress when applying for college, but even make the experience somewhat enjoyable. Here are some tips to ensure a smooth application experience, and few stress busters for when the heat is on.
Start planning early
The absolute best way to ensure your college applications are stress-free is to work out a comprehensive application timeline, ahead of time. That’s not always easy: figuring out which programs and which schools to apply to is a big step and not all college applicants are ready to make that decision by junior year. However, for those who can, planning ahead is a fantastic tool, allowing you to stretch out the work over a longer period of time, plan for contingencies and ensure no one week is overloaded. Not having to rush allows for a better balance between applications, current school work and extracurricular activities, while also leaving plenty of time for social activities and leisure time. So start thinking about those applications NOW, not when the deadlines are coming up.
Do get help
College applications can be overwhelming, and in the case of top colleges, the competition is fiercer than ever before. Thankfully, you don’t have to face down those long odds alone. Services like admissions consulting are available to guide you through the process (by the way, it is a growing field, twice as large as it was five years ago). Whether you’re a first generation college applicant seeking a spot at a coveted Ivy+ school, or just want to maximize your chances, seeking professional help from a reputable source is an excellent idea. Your consultant can help you prioritize, schedule, and develop a compelling admissions argument based on your own experience and what the school is looking for.
Do find healthy outlets for stress, and avoid unhealthy ones
It’s essential that college admissions don’t take over the entirety of your life, so while dropping extracurricular commitments to focus on essay writing might seem logical, it’s ultimately a bad idea. For one thing, colleges want diverse candidates, for another, healthy outlets like sports are an excellent way to de-stress and maintain focus during application season. Even hobbies that may not seem all that productive are important: there’s nothing wrong with a bit of video gaming to relax the mind. Just avoid unhealthy behaviour: NYU’s study of high school students found significant evidence of substance use, with students describing substance use as “both endemic to their social experience and as a method for managing stress, [with] alcohol and marijuana […] described as the primary substances students used for relaxation.” Needless to say, drugs are not a productive addition to your college admissions strategy.
Parents – be the adult in the situation
While college applications are bad enough on their own, they can be downright suffocating if infused with the wrong kind of parental pressure. Yes, you want your child to live a successful life and that means nabbing that college degree, but making acceptance to a certain school a “do or die” scenario won’t help anyone. Instead of turning up the pressure, try listening to your kid and offering support as they ask for it. That may mean giving your opinion on their essays, coordinating schedules or even advising them to forgo that one extra application they just won’t have time for. Remember, teenage brains are still developing, and expecting an adult level of discipline isn’t always realistic.
Do keep things in perspective
Remember, life goes on. Though you may not get into Harvard or Stanford or even your safety school, a senior year college application likely isn’t the hardest or most important challenge you’ll face in your life. By keeping things in perspective, you’ll allow yourself room to grow as a human being, something many kids elect to do after high school, with gap years or a pre-college internship. The extra years gained from a failed application season, if planned out and properly managed, will give you breathing room to grow as a person, and provide plenty of material for future college admissions essays. But no matter when you apply, remember that you’re a person and your value isn’t determined by which schools say yes, and which ones decide you’re not a perfect fit in an increasingly competitive environment.