Four Tips for Dealing with the Stress of College Admissions

Wellness

There are a million tabs open, all waiting for your input. Dotted Excel sheets reminding you of deadlines and Google Docs with only the copy and pasted prompt glaring back at you. And, wait, the FAFSA form that was released two weeks ago!

Yes, I know exactly how you feel. I was in your shoes less than 10 months ago, and even before then, I can recall the visceral churning of my guts when someone even remotely mentioned college. Three years of high school built up to this moment. But I don't think it has to be stressful. In retrospect, the psychological stress made those grueling months of the senior year all the worst, but I've also managed to ease that stress with a few tips I'll be sharing below.

Stay Disciplined

I'm sure this isn't the most exciting thing you were waiting to hear, but we know it right? The college admissions process is a complex, multi-step process. There will be a lot you need to do, so in order to not feel overwhelmed by deadlines and workload, doing it in bite-sized pieces every day may be helpful. I strongly discourage last-minute adrenaline crunches as it only exacerbates your stress levels, and I think is a generally bad habit to have, especially since you are most likely aware of all the deadlines as soon as the applications are released, so there's a great opportunity to plan your tasks to align with those deadlines.

Ask Others Early

It is imperative that you give your recommenders and counselors ample time to assemble their recommendation letters or other application material. Not only will this save them from rushing to complete a recommendation letter, for example, but it will also give your teachers more time to be more thoughtful in their responses. This was something I'm glad I did, especially after seeing so many of my peers stressed two weeks before the early decision deadline, waiting for Common App to say “received.” You should also reach out to a mentor or college access programs if you have specific application for financial aid. However, you want to make sure you don't do that last minute and attempt to schedule a few meetings. Here I would like to recommend the free program by College Essay Guy (a wonderful resource!), The Matchlighters Program. Check it out if you're interested!

Don't Feel Like You're In This Alone

The shared struggle is the best way to capture my graduating class during those precarious months. There was an odd sense of camaraderie amongst us, stemming from the fact that we were all going through the same process of assembling paperwork, completing applications, writing essays, and anxiously waiting for results. It became a wonderful conversation starter between seniors. It also felt normal to share the process, the difficulties, because definitely, I was not the only person struggling or stressing. Definitely remember that many people are in your shoes, and you can even take this opportunity to bond with others, sharing and helping each other out.

Rest. You Need It.

Although the adrenaline-powered nights made me feel invincible at times, it was, for the most part, taxing. I was constantly tired in class because of my lack of sleep. Listen, you need adequate sleep. You need to rest. You cannot be perpetually “thriving” off of three-hour sleep schedules. If you're applying to a lot of colleges, it may feel like every bit of free time needs to be squeezed out to write those essays. I understand the sense of urgency you feel, but leaving space for yourself to rest, to relax will definitely make the entire process more enjoyable.

Final Words

Even after you're done, perfectionist tendencies may lurk behind your mind, pegging defeating questions. As you grind through your essays, it may feel as though you'll never see light, but you will. Even if the task feels daunting, it is not impossible. Classes of seniors survived. This is a rite-of-passage that will not define you. You got this.

Helen Chen

Helen is a current freshman at Columbia University double majoring in Creative Writing and Computer Science. She loves to read memoirs, dig out 90s movies, explore new corners of the city (although she is a New York native), and regards academia to be the most romantic aesthetic ever (perhaps ever so slightly influenced by her love for Dead Poets Society, Donna Tartt's prose, and classy Tumblr feeds).