Applying to College Can Be Stressful But It Doesn't Have to Be
It’s only natural for teens to feel pressure when navigating the college admissions process – it is, after all, one of the biggest decisions many teens will have made up until this point. In the January newsletter we covered how to manage test anxiety, which is common among many teens taking the ACT or SAT in hopes of getting into their dream school. While testing anxiety can be crippling, the college preparation process extends beyond one Saturday morning test. Many students can feel overwhelmed going into the process, and the stress can cause problems with grades, family, friends, health, and more.
At IvyWise, we believe that college prep process should be enjoyable. It’s an exciting time for students, and they should enjoy researching colleges, exploring their interests, trying new activities and becoming engrossed in them, and everything else that comes along with applying to college. Of course it’s only natural for there to be some ups and downs with busy schedules, tests, and the pressure that comes with writing a great essay. Applying to colleges it not easy, but it’s also not life or death.
Here are some tips to help students (and parents!) manage college admission stress.
This is the most important thing that families can do to help minimize college admissions stress. No, we don’t mean emailing admissions officers in middle school, although for some students it is advantageous to start thinking about college in 8th grade. Starting the college prep process early can be as simple as just talking about college: What is it? Why is it important? What doors can a college degree open? For many students, college isn’t an inkling until well into junior year, and by then they only have a few months to prepare. Little knowledge about the process coupled with a short timeframe is the perfect recipe for a college admissions meltdown. Start thinking about college freshman year. Work on getting good grades (one of the most important things colleges consider), exploring interest, and familiarizing yourself with the ACT and SAT. Building a solid academic foundation and a good understanding of the process early on will go a long way to alleviating stress come junior year.
Set manageable goals.
There’s a lot that colleges look at when evaluating applicants, and many students can see it as a large list of ‘to-dos.’ Have I done community service? Check. Am I taking AP classes? Check. Did I do a summer activity? Check. For many students, this mental checklist doesn’t surface until later in the process, then they’re scrambling to make everything happen in one semester. It’s important to remember that, while starting early is extremely beneficial, the college admissions process is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t expect to get everything done in a day. Instead, set manageable goals. Pick an activity or two to explore. Spend one hour each day reviewing SAT prep materials. Set aside some free time on the weekend to research colleges. Break down the things on your college prep checklist into small chunks, and tackle them over the course of the school year. This will not only help you focus and adjust your goals, but take the pressure of a time crunch out of the equation.
Ask for help.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your college counselor or get advice from an independent consultant should you find that you’re having a hard time managing the college admissions process and the stress that’s coming with it. Your college counselor is there to help, and can assist you in putting together a plan of action to tackle the college admissions process and alleviate some of the pressure. If your schedule has become too demanding, reevaluate your commitments. Talk with your parents about ways you can manage your time better and what they can do to help you with college prep. We always want students to take control of the college admissions process, but it’s ok to have some support from family along the way.
Again, getting into college isn’t life or death. Students should focus on their goals and finding best-fit colleges that meet those needs – not just schools with fancy names and low admission rates. In the end, if you start early and apply to a balanced list of good fit colleges, you will get into a school that’s best for you. The college experience is about what you do with your time there, not the institution itself or its reputation. Keep a positive attitude throughout the process and make the best of it!