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For high school seniors, college application season can be highly stressful. Students must juggle their usual classes, extracurricular activities, and sometimes jobs with taking important entrance exams, writing essays, and applying for scholarships and colleges.
There’s also the worrying: Students worry about missing deadlines or not scoring high enough on the SAT. 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 the college application stress by following the 6 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. This is to say: One key to reducing anxiety and stress is starting early and not having to rush.
During the summer months, you won’t have schoolwork, homework, or extracurricular activities to worry about. Focusing on college applications and getting some of the work done now may save you a lot of anxiety once the school year starts.
For example, you can create a Common Application (Common App) account and start answering the background questions, get your list of colleges finalized, research their application deadlines, start brainstorming essay topics, etc. Some students even opt to write their college essays over the summer.
Even before the summer, you can get an early start on the following:
- Researching and visiting colleges
- Exploring career options and potential majors
- Taking the SAT and ACT (so you have as much time as needed to get a solid score)
- Participating in extracurricular, leadership, and volunteer activities and keeping track of your accomplishments
It’s also a good idea for you to ask your teachers for letters of recommendation as early as possible. Once application season is underway, the most liked and respected teachers are bombarded with requests for recommendation letters, so teachers will appreciate you asking early. They may also have more time to work on your letter, resulting in a better recommendation.
Getting an early start on everything from selecting colleges to taking the SAT and writing the college essay doesn’t necessarily sound fun, but it will save you time, energy, and stress come fall.
2. Get organized.
Keeping up with test dates and deadlines is one of the key elements of anxiety and stress. Getting organized makes the process run much more smoothly.
Create and keep a calendar of all scholarship and college application deadlines, plus important dates, like when you will take the SAT or ACT. 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 check boxes, 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, 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. Limit the number of applications.
Naturally, applying to an excessive number of schools can make college application season extra stressful. You don’t need to apply to 10 or more schools. In fact, most experts recommend that students apply to 5-7 colleges.
Generate a list of what you’re looking for in a school, including what your planned major. Then make sure you only apply to schools that fit all or most of these requirements, and have a strong program in your chosen major.
You should apply to your dream schools, but also to a couple of “safety schools” just in case. Safety schools are the ones that are almost certain to accept you, and knowing that you have choices to fall back on can help you feel less anxious.
If you are only applying to extremely selective schools, then you may want to apply to more than 5-7. Otherwise, there’s no reason to overdo it.
4. Reuse and recycle.
The Common App allows students to apply to many schools by filling out just one application. It’s a great time-saver, but some schools still require supplemental essays in addition to the Common App essay. You may also apply to colleges that don’t accept the Common App.
As a result, you may be expected to write several essays. In many cases, however, these essays have the same or similar topics. Make sure that you’re saving your essay. If possible, you can reuse or adapt it for multiple schools.
Writing one essay is stressful enough for most students, so reusing it can majorly reduce your anxiety levels. (Of course, double check that you remember to change the name of the college if mentioned in your essay!)
You can also reuse letters of recommendation and answers to background questions on most college applications.
5. Have a positive attitude.
Parents, too, get stressed during college application season. Try not to get each other down, and share your anxieties and worries productively — we know stress affects everyone involved, but keep a positive attitude. In the end, college acceptances don’t define your worth or your family’s.
In addition, while these acceptances 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!
6. Use your resources.
There are countless resources available when it comes to applying to colleges and universities. Talk to your high school guidance counselor and use reputable college guides and reviews online.
You can also talk to older students who are currently enrolled in college. Ask them questions about the application process and about the schools they’re attending.
You can also contact schools and 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.
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 organized. 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.
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