It is not surprising that, with the need to juggle the demands of school, extra-curricular activities alongside applying to college, application season can be highly stressful.
There’s also the worrying: Students worry about missing deadlines or not scoring high enough in their standardised tests. They worry that their peers will receive dazzling scholarship offers and acceptance letters, while they’ll be stuck with a pile of rejections.
They worry that there simply isn’t enough time for everything they need to accomplish.
Fortunately, you can reduce college application stress by following the 5 tips below.
1. Start early.
You might be groaning at this suggestion, but it’s a great idea to get a head-start on college applications over the summer following your junior year.
During the summer months, you generally have more time as you won’t have schoolwork or homework, to worry about. Using this extra time to focus on college applications and getting some of the work done may save you a lot of anxiety once the school year starts.
For example, we recommend students start working on their application essays over the summer. You can create a Common Application (Common App) account and start answering the background questions, get your list of colleges finalised, research their application deadlines.
Even before the summer, you can get an early start on the following:
Researching and visiting colleges, either virtually or, if you have the opportunity, in person
Exploring career options and potential majors
Consider taking the SAT and ACT (so you have as much time as needed to get a solid score)
Participating in competitive summer programmes, undertaking leadership, and volunteer activities.
It’s also a good idea for you to ask your teachers for letters of recommendation as early as possible. Writing recommendation letters is a major undertaking for teachers and an important part of your application so you don’t want them to rush to complete something to meet an impending deadline. Teachers will appreciate you asking early.
Getting an early start on everything from selecting colleges to writing the college essay doesn’t necessarily sound fun, but it will save you time, energy, and stress once school starts again.
2. Get organised.
Keeping up with test dates and deadlines is one of the key elements of anxiety and stress. Getting organised makes the process run much more smoothly.
Create and keep a calendar of all college and scholarship application deadlines plus other important dates, like any standardised test dates or any critical school deadlines or exams.
You can also keep a checklist of what you need to send to each college, such as transcripts and test scores. As you cross off deadlines and checkboxes, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. This alleviates college stress and anxiety associated with applying to colleges.
It’s also helpful to keep a file (physical or digital) with key information like transcripts, essays, contact details for letters of recommendation, and a resume of activities and accomplishments. This way, you won’t have to frantically scramble for information every time you fill out a new application.
3. Reuse and recycle.
The Common App allows students to apply to many schools by filling out just one application. While this is a great time-saver most colleges still require supplemental essays that are specific to them, in addition to the Common App essay. You may also apply to colleges that don’t accept the Common App which will result in you having to write additional essays.
In many cases, however, these essays have the same or similar topics. With careful planning and some reshaping, it may be possible for you to use the same basic essay for applications to multiple colleges which can reduce the amount of anxiety you feel.
4. Have a positive attitude.
Parents and indeed the wider family also get stressed during college application season. Try to share your anxieties and worries productively but keep a positive attitude, often sharing a concern can throw up different solutions, or maybe just a well timed slice of cake can make all the difference.
Try to keep a sense of proportion, being accepted, or rejected, by a particular college does not define your worth or that of your family and while they do play a role in your future, they aren’t the be-all and end-all of your success in life either. Make sure that you and your family all remain aware of this, and don’t put too much pressure on yourselves – keep in mind that this all-consuming process only lasts for a few months!
5. Use your resources.
There are countless resources available when it comes to applying to colleges and universities.
Talk to your school’s college counsellor and use reputable college guides and reviews online. If possible, try to talk to older students who are currently enrolled in college. Ask them questions about the application process and about the college they’re attending.
You can also contact college admissions officers with questions as needed, and college websites hold a wealth of useful information. There are even forums specifically for students with questions about college applications that you or your family may wish to browse, however treat these with some caution as they are only reflective of a small minority of students.
Understanding that there are so many supportive resources available will help you feel less stressed about the college process.
Conclusion: How to Reduce College Application Stress
Applying to colleges can be overwhelming and stressful, but you can help make the process easier for yourself as well.
Start early and get organised. Don’t over-extend yourself by applying to too many schools.
Keep in mind that you can typically reuse letters of recommendation and essays.
Be positive and supportive and be on the lookout for useful resources.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to navigate college application season with as little stress as possible.