How to Balance and Maintain a Healthy Stress Level During the College Process

Fall is the time in which the stress of the college application process typically starts to set in: The classic “I showed up to the first day of senior year without any of my stuff” nightmare, difficulty paying attention in class knowing an incomplete Common App still sits on your desk, dreading running into your parents’ friends, for fear they might ask you where you’re applying. We’ve been there. Stress can be pretty brutal. It can get in the way of your productivity during the application process, but a healthy dose of it can also be motivating. So, we’ve decided to highlight a few tips on how you can use a little bit of stress to your advantage without totally panicking.

The Tangible Kind  

We find that there are two types of stress college applicants usually have to manage.

First, there’s the “tangible” kind. Tangible stress refers to things, in real life, that if you had a magic wand, you could point to and disappear.  Freaking out because you’ve procrastinated your history paper until the last day? No problem, just wave your tangible-stress-magic-wand and POOF, the paper wrote itself. 

Similarly, at one point or another on your journey to college, you might have a little voice in your head asking, “what if I don’t get in anywhere?” We like to put the “What if I don’t get in anywhere?” stress into the tangible category, because believe it or not, there are actual, concrete actions you can take to relieve yourself, at least somewhat, of that concern.

Safeties are Not Always So

The good news is, it’s only October. If you’re really worried about it, put in a few more applications. Some people think applying to a dozen more safety schools is a good idea. We actually recommend against it. Believe it or not, safety schools know they are your safeties. They can see your test scores, your GPA, and your application. They know when they are competing with Ivy Leagues for your attention. Since their goal is to fill a great class with students who are also excited to attend, why would they offer admission to someone they think is unlikely to matriculate to their university? Instead, add more target and reach schools to your list. Just don’t apply to more than 15 schools total.

Assume You Are Not That Kid   

Every year, there is a kid who gets into all of the Ivy League schools. As brilliant and well-rounded as you are, assume that kid is not you.  Each Ivy is different. For example, students who would do really well at Penn, might not be a great fit for Brown. That means that no one is right for all of the Ivies, probably not even that kid who got into all of them.

So, when we say, “apply to more schools,” we also don’t mean you should apply to more Ivy League schools. In fact, limit your Ivy League applications to two or three in total.  

Get a Hall Pass  

So now that you can breathe a little bit more easily knowing you’re applying to more schools, the trick is to identify application deadlines and manage your time accordingly. Inevitably, you will have a slight panic attack thinking about how you are going to manage those 15 or fewer applications on top of school work. Work hard in school. You’ve spent years proving you know how to do that, but give yourself permission to prioritize college applications over school work for now. You can make up school work in the end, but you can’t negotiate with college application deadlines.

The Existential Kind 

So, we’ve discussed a few hacks on tackling the tangible stress. So why is your heart still thumping out of your chest? Sometimes, the college application process can bring about a cloud of foggy, generalized anxiety whose origin we can’t quite pinpoint. Feelings of inadequacy are also really common for teenagers. We call this kind of stress the “existential” kind. A lot of times, we are actually just stressed about that mountain of stuff we haven’t completed. Make a to-do list and stick to it. Once you’ve checked off all of your boxes, you might just find that you’re a little less worried about getting into college.

Just know, you are not alone. Everyone is going through it. At some point or another, we all feel like we’re not going to get everywhere, like we’re not impressive candidates, and like our essays are weird and boring. We’ve been there, too. In fact, you’ve probably felt some version of this type of stress at another point in your own life. Think about 6th grade. You were super awkward. You dreaded the all-school dance and perhaps worried that you smelled a little bit, so no one would ever like you. But you got through it. Just know that this will pass, too. You’ve just got to get up every day and keep going.

Nurture You

Maintaining can be really difficult if you’re not taking care of yourself. If you’re not eating right, exercising, or sleeping enough, your stress levels will probably increase.  We often romanticize the “all-nighter”—the idea of staying up really late, cramming, and acing a test. This is a fantasy. It rarely works out. Also, you’re not a professional writer on a deadline or a doctor preparing for surgery just yet. You’re still a kid and sleep is incredibly important. Quit drinking coffee in the evening, hit the hay at a reasonable hour, disconnect from the screen and get outside to do some cardio every day. While you’re at it, lay off the Funfetti cake and eat some vegetables.

Need help maintaining a healthy balance during the application process? We are professionals in the juggling act. You can reach us here.