Managing Anxiety During The College Application Process

Posted on October 7th, 2017

It’s that time of year – college application season! Some teens meet this right of passage with a smile, while others cringe. Living in the Silicon Valley, many students put pressure on themselves to apply to highly selective universities and attach their self-worth or level of success to the acceptances they receive. In addition, the application process itself can be a daunting experience with pages and pages of questions, essays, letters of recommendation and varying deadlines. All of this can create high levels of stress for both teens and their parents.

Here are some tips for helping your teen (and yourself!) reduce anxiety, lessen stress, and stay positive while managing the college application process:

Get organized.

Encourage your teen to break down his/her college applications into manageable tasks that can be done over time. Doing it all at once or scrambling at the last minute could leave your teen second-guessing the quality of his/her application or submitting an incomplete one, which will only lead to more anxiety. While many people mark their calendars with deadlines, another strategy to help avoid last-minute chaos is to mark calendars with dates to start tasks or make requests. For more tips on how to get organized, take a look at the College Planning Checklists from IvyWise.

Know the facts.

Not having all the facts, or even worse – having the wrong facts about colleges can result in skyrocketing anxiety for teens, and unintentionally set them up for failure. It’s important for your teens to have a holistic and realistic understanding of each college’s individual admittance requirements, programs, trends, and statistics. These can change from year to year, and what was true last year (or when an older sibling applied) is not necessarily true this year. 

Compare colleges in terms of fit, not rankings.

Be mindful of the messages you send your teen when talking about specific colleges. When discussing colleges, explore reasons why a particular school is a good fit for your teen and his/her goals rather than its ranking. This mindset can help your teen focus on the “bigger picture” (i.e. the college experience or working toward a career goal), as well as decrease labeling (“good school” vs. “bad school”) and singular-focus (i.e. “Yale is the only place for me”).

Some of the universities your teen chooses may be prestigious, but if he/she goes into the application process applying to schools that are truly a “good fit,” your teen is more likely to be confident in his/her applications. Your teen will also be less likely to get sucked into the competitiveness of peers or feel as though he/she has no options if not admitted into his/her top choice.

Allow your teen to express emotions.

There can be many emotions attached to the application process, beyond the stress of applying and the “what ifs” around acceptances. Applying for college may spark emotions about the end of high school: excitement for a new chapter, sadness around friends moving away, or doubt about the future. As adults, it’s easy to tell our teens “It’s not the end of the world,” or “This won’t matter in five years,” with the intent to comfort. However, try your best not to minimize or dismiss your teen’s feelings, as these feelings may be very strong and real for your teen. We have the life experience to feel confident in those statements, but your teen is just beginning the process of learning these life lessons.

Once they hit submit, help them let it go!

Simply stated, you can’t control everything. Nobody knows what is in the admission committee’s heads. Once they hit “submit,” help your teens relax and destress. No matter what happens, they will be OK, but every now and then, they may need a little reminder of this.

The college application process can create stress for teens, as well as for those around them. It’s important to be empathetic and help your teens understand that these feelings are normal and they are not alone. With these tips, you can help your teen change this process from stressful to exciting and full of hope!

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.