Hey, y’all. Now that we’re in the middle of college application season, it’s inevitable that stress and anxiety for high school seniors is going to be at an all-time high. Not only do they have to maintain their grades and schoolwork, as well as their participation in their various extracurricular activities, but they also have to apply to (on average) approx. 10-15 colleges, as well as still find time to make lasting memories with their friends before graduation. In short, students will often have to sacrifice sleep, or socialization, or, ultimately, their mental health during their final years of high school.
This issue has been well-documented elsewhere, but it’s important to repeat here: applying to colleges can create an intense amount of stress and anxiety. It’s easy for students to compare themselves to others, regret opportunities they might not have been able to take during their high school careers, or feel a lot of pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) to get into the best programs or colleges possible. They’re going to need a lot of comfort and support throughout this process, and we’re here to offer you a few suggestions as to how best to assist your student during this important time in their life.
What follows is an incomplete list of tips to help your child as they plan for the next stage of their academic journey. Of course, at the end of the day, you know your students best; above all else, what they’ll need from you is a sympathetic ear. Don’t feel pressured to provide them with essential college advice or have all the answers at the ready; just lend them your time, and whatever else your student needs to feel safe and secure. We’ll make sure your student gets the best advice and guidance possible when it comes to approaching the college admissions process.
Here we go.Here’s five easy ways to help your student reduce stress during the college application process:
1. Help your student get organized with schedules and deadlines. As stated earlier, on average, our students apply to at least 10-15 colleges each application cycle. That’s 10-15 colleges whose deadlines, optional and required essays, letters of recommendation, and a bevvy of other application materials your student will have to keep track of. It can be incredibly easy to become disorganized, which can cause your student to easily become overwhelmed. One of the best gifts you can give your student is to teach them how to become organized and regimented with their applications. Maybe help them fill out an Excel spreadsheet with all of the different deadlines and requirements they’ll have to fulfill for each college. Maybe help them write reminders on their phone’s Calendar app or even buy them a planner. Ultimately, try to help them use whatever methods to get them organized, be it digital or otherwise, so that they don’t get overwhelmed before applications are submitted, or (even worse) accidentally miss the deadline for a required essay or other supplemental material.
2. Schedule “College On” / “College Off” hours as part of your weekly routine. Making applying to colleges a consistent part of your routine can avoid a lot of unpredictability and uncertainty throughout the application process, and therefore can significantly reduce the chances of stress or anxiety. While it depends on the amount of college applications your student has to complete, as well as a variety of other factors, most students take about 6-8 hours each week to work on their applications. If you schedule a consistent time for these hours (for example, 4-6 PM on MWF), and make sure your student sticks to these hours, it can be an effective method to avoid procrastination and burnout. Similarly, be sure to have your student schedule hours throughout their work for them to not worry about college. It could be a full day, like Saturday or Sunday; it could also be 2-3 hours each evening, maybe right before bed. But make sure your student is given space to relax, and unwind, and watch mindless TV or play video games; it’s just as important for their overall productivity and mental health if they have time to distract themselves from worrying about college, too. And those “College Off” hours should be just as strictly enforced as the “College On” hours! Trust us, they’re essential to maintaining sanity for everyone involved.
3.Help yourself and your student keep realistic expectations about college.It can be easy for parents and students alike to develop an “Ivy League Or Bust” mentality when they begin to apply for colleges; that is, many families tend to view anything less than becoming accepted to their dream college as a failure on the student’s part. This, of course, can create enormous pressure for a student to succeed on their applications. Considering that top-tier colleges are now even more competitive (the average acceptance rate for “The Big Three” universities, plus Columbia, is now only 5.4%), it is highly unlikely for any student, no matter how accomplished, to get admitted to every school they apply to. Remind your student that you still care for and appreciate them, no matter their application results. Remind them that college is a fun and worthwhile part of their lives, no matter which college they end up attending. And remind them that there is still time for them to grow and develop their professional and academic careers, so that they can end up applying to a top-tier graduate school or graduate from college with their dream job. While college is a significant part of a student’s life, it isn’t the only part. Similarly, students can still find an enriching and rewarding career at any college they attend—success isn’t just limited to the Ivy Leagues, after all.
4. Be an active listener. Help your student avoid self-critical language. We can’t tell you how often we’ve heard student say: “I should’ve done this in high school….I can’t believe I did so bad on the SAT….Her grades are so much better than mine, so there’s no way I’m getting accepted to any college she applies to….” A student’s self-critical language can rear its ugly head throughout the college application process. It can be easy for a student to reflect on all of the potential mistakes they made throughout their high school career, from choosing not to take AP tests, to regretting the Bs or Cs on their transcript. They can also tend to compare themselves to other students, which can take a toll on their self-confidence. Rather than immediately attempting to fix the problem, simply being there for your student and listening to their concerns can be a wonderful way to ease their stress and anxiety. If you find your student is overly critical of themselves, remind them that they are wonderful and loved just the way they are. For more information on negative self-talk, as well as how to combat it, feel free to look at these articles on the subject by Verywell Mind, Forbes, and Psychology Today.
5.Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, too. Your student will often come to you for advice or answers throughout the college application process. While it’s natural to want to immediately offer a solution, the truth is that misinformation can often be more harmful or counterproductive than offering no information at all. Learning how to say, “I’m not sure, but let’s find the answer together,” is an essential skill to teach your students and will ultimately further help them in the long run. So if you don’t know what the difference between unweighted vs. weighted GPA is, or if there’s any benefits to sending off your SAT score to a “test-optional “university—don’t worry! Nowadays, it’s easy to find the correct answers online. For example, we have plenty of blog posts on a variety of college counseling topics that should be helpful for you and your student. You can also schedule a meeting with your student’s high school counselor; you can also call or email us if you have a quick question you’d like us to answer. Furthermore, as mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you notice your student’s mental health is suffering at this critical time in their lives. Providing your student with optional access to a therapist or counselor can be a great way to ensure they get the emotional support they need as they navigate through the stress of college applications. Overall, it’s completely okay to not have all the answers; your student will still be incredibly appreciative of you if you take the time to find someone who does. Finding others to support you and your student will also ease your stress and worry, too!
What do you think? Would you like to try any of these methods out with your student? If you have any questions, or want advice on a specific topic, feel free to contact us and let us know.
Have a wonderful rest of your week, y’all. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
College Counseling Specialist