Reducing Stress During College Application Season

By: Caroline Koppelman

You’ve worked hard in high school. You spent hours studying, you sacrificed sleep for sports practice, and you even managed to find time to volunteer. Now you’ve finally found a school where you can imagine yourself spending the next four years, and it has a 9% acceptance rate. How would you feel if you told your friend, who maybe has a slightly higher SAT score, that you’re going to apply there early, only to have them reconsider their own choice, apply to your school, and get in instead of you? This, unfortunately, is not some outrageous nightmare.

In high school, information is rarely private. Everyone knows each other’s test scores, G.P.A, and relationship status. This makes sense; when you’ve gone to school with the same small group of people for a long time, in some cases even since kindergarten, keeping secrets seems unnecessary, if not impossible. But when it comes to applying to college, this open flow of information isn’t always the best policy. 

If you and your best friend take similar classes and have overlapping interests, it’s not surprising that you might like some of the same colleges. But here’s the unfortunate reality: when it comes to college, the biggest competition is from your own school.

It sounds harsh, but this makes sense. How can a university accurately compare a student from rural Montana whose school doesn’t offer any advanced classes with a kid from a New York private school who has taken 800 APs? Short answer: they can’t. And colleges want diversity of every kind; it’s what adds to the character and appeal of these schools to begin with.

At some point, you’ll probably compare colleges with your friends. Maybe you even do visits together. But our advice: when it comes time to sit down and apply, keep your final decisions to yourself. This is the best way to reduce stress during the college application process. You don’t need to act awkward or shady. Tell your friends that it’s nothing personal, you just don’t want to share that information yet. Or just say you haven’t made final decisions yet and are writing essays for a bunch of different places.

Getting your friend’s voices out of your head will reduce some of the social stress you feel, which is often the stress you feel immediately. But, we urge you to not forget the bigger picture. Yes, applying to college is stressful. There are a lot of deadlines to keep track of and expectations to fulfill, but you can do it. Don’t lose yourself in the spiral of stress that seems to accompany this process. Get outside. Go for a run. Maybe even turn on Netflix. 

Ultimately, if you want to get into the best possible school, you need to keep your stress level low. We find our students are most stressed out when they compare schools with their friends. So as awkward as it may seem, we tell them to not do it. By constantly comparing your choices, you’re going to lose sight of what you’re really looking for, while at the same time potentially hurting your chances of getting into your dream school.