Managing Stress in the College Application Process

Saya Jenks
Saya Jenks

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By the time you get to junior or senior year, sometimes it can feel like all you ever talk about is college. It is totally normal to get stressed out about your next step, because it’s a high-pressure topic. It’s reasonable to want a break from thinking about the status of your college applications all the time. And, it’s healthy to have a game plan for managing your stress in college application season. This will build resilience for when you do need to deal with more stressful aspects of the college search, and life beyond senior year.

Firstly, figure out if there are particular things that trigger your stress. How do you react when you know that you’ll have to plan deadlines for long term projects? Travel for college visits? Meet with college counselors? Communicate your plans to your parents? Study for standardized tests? 

Finding Stress Points

If there are aspects of the college search that you enjoy or don’t find stressful, that is fine. What about those aspects makes you feel confident or at ease? Is your counselor supportive and positive, which makes you feel empowered? Do your parents make sure to ask how you’re doing before starting conversations about college? Do you enjoy seeing new places and checking out your potential future schools? Let others know how they can best support you during this trying time and give positive feedback to the people who are already helping you out.

Narrow It Down

For the stress-inducing aspects, see if you can pinpoint what about them is stressful to you. Does it feel like all your family ever talks about at dinner is where you are in your college process? Have you had to miss school for college visits and therefore associate those trips with getting behind in homework? Do you get test anxiety and therefore avoid prepping for the SAT? 

Actively Managing Stress in the College Application Process

Cultivating this knowledge about why you react the way you do to certain situations and pinpointing the main catalyst for your reaction is the first step in figuring out a more positive, productive way to approaching college-related topics. Once you’ve done that, brainstorm ways to make currently stressful situations more positive.

For example:

If you want to improve your communication channel with your parents, you could draw up an agreement with your parents that you will update them about your application process every other day at 7:30. You will come in with an upbeat attitude and agree to answer their questions and consider their advice. In turn, they will mirror your encouraging approach and avoid bringing up the topic at other times when you want to focus on other things. Setting aside a specific time to talk about college with your family can help everyone involved feel prepared and not caught off guard. Your family brings up the topic because they want you to succeed; but you need to determine how can you all communicate about college in a way that feels mutually supportive. 

Common Stress: SAT and ACT

Additionally, if you find the thought of prepping for the SAT and ACT daunting, know that you’re not alone. For many students, the SAT and ACT are the longest exams they have had to take, and the stakes feel high. Being nervous is totally normal. As you’ve probably heard, one of the best ways to squash fears of the tests is to take lots of timed practice tests so they become second nature. Being familiar with the time allotted for each section and the nature of the questions is very important. Learn how to calm your breathing while you take the test if you get anxious; there are lots of free apps and websites that can teach you how to control your breathing and stay relatively tranquil. 

Divide and Conquer

Make a list of smaller ways you can reduce stress on a daily basis. If you’ve been sitting at your desk working on an essay for a long time, get up and move around — our brains work better once our blood is flowing or after we’ve gotten some exercise. Try taking a break from social media, it can increase anxiety. For example, if your friends post a lot about college acceptances, it’s easy to start comparing yourself to them. Remember that people tend to mostly post positive news, and that everyone has a different college admissions experience.

And in the End…

Finally, carve out time to pursue the things that excite you or make you happy, whether that’s playing soccer, acting in plays, reading about ancient history, or hiking. Having downtime and pursuing your passions makes you a healthier, happier person, and finding the work- life balance will be important now, in college, and beyond. 

Questions? Let us know!