By Carolyn, IvyWise College Admissions Counselors
When I first begin speaking with students and their families about college, the tone of the conversation is often trepidatious. Students know that this process involves a lot of work and high-stakes decisions, and with that comes an understandable amount of stress. While I do not want to invalidate these feelings, too much stress can have detrimental effects on your mental and emotional health and may even cause some unforced errors along the way. If you are a college-bound student embarking on this process and beginning to feel that stress, you have come to the right place. Here are some strategies that can help you fight some of it off, and (dare I say it?) actually enjoy the process of applying to college.
Get (And Stay) On Top of Your Workload
One of the most common sources of anxiety in the college application process is feeling behind schedule or having too much work to complete in a short amount of time. Work with your family and counselors early in the application process to map out a calendar of the tasks you must complete over the next several months. Make it a priority to dole out larger tasks over the span of multiple weeks and ensure that all applications are complete well in advance of their deadlines. Resolve to make some progress on your college tasks every day, instead of leaving them all to be completed at the very last minute.
Involve Your Family in Your Plans
Another common stressor is conflict with family members over college decisions. Before you begin the application process, have a candid conversation with everyone whose opinion will factor into the process. Identify any potential conflicts, share your reasoning, and consider everyone’s perspective. Do not get up from the table until an understanding has been reached about any topics on which you disagree and commit as a family to honoring those understandings as you move forward. Having these conversations early on will be much more productive than arguing about them right before a very real and life-altering decision has to be made.
Build (And Enjoy) New Relationships
Connect with the teachers and counselors at your high school, ask them about their college experiences, and consider their wizened perspectives. This connection can be beneficial to your recommendations, but you may also learn something from your conversations or at least break up the school day with some delightful small talk. Be intentional in conversations with admissions counselors, financial aid staff, and any other professionals you encounter along the way. They all have unique insight not just into application strategy but also how to come out of the experience with your sanity intact. Finally, use the college process as an excuse to build stronger relationships with your family. Ask your loved ones about their college experiences, what they enjoyed and what they would have done differently. This does not mean that you must take all their advice or copy and paste their experiences, but you may gain a new perspective on (and appreciation for) the people you have been living with your whole life!
Embrace Ownership of the Process
Although you are not navigating the college admissions process on your own, deciding where to apply to college, what to include in your application, and which school to select may be some of the biggest life decisions you have ever had to make for yourself. This idea can feel a little bit intimidating, but it can also be empowering. How you conduct yourself and the choices you make throughout the college process will not only reflect the type of person that you currently are, but it can also move you closer to who you want to be in the future. What do you want this process to look and feel like? What knowledge and skills do you want to gain along the way? What characteristics of a college experience are the most important to you? How will you define success? Take some time to reflect on these questions and let them guide your work.
Bring the Joy Wherever You Can
There are parts of the college admissions process that can feel tedious. Information sessions start to blur together, test prep numbs your brain, and you lose count of all the minutia the FAFSA forces you to unearth. However, even these less-than-thrilling activities can be livened up with just a bit of imagination. Make it a personal challenge to create some fun whenever you start to lose motivation. Turn college campus tours into a secret family scavenger hunt. Exchange personal statement brainstorms with your friends and help generate topic ideas for each other. Take your laptop to the local college library and try to imbue your biographical information page with the “higher education spirit” as you complete it. These things may feel silly, but they can do wonders for your stress levels and motivation, and let’s face it – feeling silly is a lot better than feeling bored!
Show Your Gratitude
No matter how hard you work on your college list and applications, there will always be people who are there to help you, making this process easier in big and small ways. Make a list of everyone who has played that role for you, including counselors, teachers, family members, admissions staff, classmates, tour guides, neighbors, older siblings, and anyone else who has impacted your success. Even just creating this list can boost your spirits and help you realize the size of the loving support system you have around you. When you are done, think of ways you can show your gratitude to these helpers. It could be a simple thank you note dropped on their desk, some freshly baked cookies, a surprise house-cleaning, or just some quality time together. If you are anything like me, these acts of kindness can be a welcome distraction from the stress of application work and an infusion of joy into your day, as well as the day of the person you are thanking.
Relish Your Rejections
One of the biggest fears of students entering the admissions process is being denied by one of their top-choice schools. But rejections, in this case, are not necessarily signs of failure. Instead, they only signify that the student was brave enough to challenge themselves and dream big with their choices. I always tell students that being accepted into 100% of their colleges can actually be frustrating, as you didn’t find the limits of your ambition and will never know what other opportunities may have been available to you if you had just reached a little higher. Moreover, denials can be immensely motivating if you view them with the correct perspective. Famous authors often frame their rejection letters to remind themselves of their perseverance and allow the naysayers to fuel their fire. That is not to say your denials won’t hurt, but once you have worked through the pain, throw that letter in a frame and hang it on the dorm room wall of whichever fabulous institution you choose to attend.
Keep Everything in Perspective
Above all else, remembering to zoom out and view the big picture will help you avoid over-stressing about the stakes of every small decision you make. Do not lose sight of how lucky you are to have the chance to attend college or how hard you worked to prepare yourself for this transition. Look at all of the schools on your list, and think about the fabulous, life-changing opportunities that await you at every one of them. Sure, some of them may “rank” higher than others or offer more perks, but I can assure you that none of those things will matter even just a few years after graduation. And never forget that the things you are bringing to the table – your work ethic, your character strengths, your ambitions – will have much more of an impact on your college experience than the name on your sweatshirt ever could.
Now get out there and have some fun!
At IvyWise, we know the college prep and application process can be stressful for everyone in the family. We aim to alleviate that stress by connecting families with college admissions experts who can guide students through the college application process and help them reach their academic and personal goals – and find joy in the process. Contact us today for more information on our comprehensive college counseling services.