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Parent Edition: 5 Ways To Cope With College Application Anxiety

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

It’s crunch time. Your kid’s email box has been flooded with unopened college recruitment notices, deadlines are fast approaching, forms are half-filled out and there’s still that pesky essay they need to write. Are their SAT scores good enough? And should they send them now that most schools are continuing a test-optional policy? Should they add to their college list? Will they get in anywhere??? Your kid is stressed and doubting themselves. Your own anxiety is peaking, now and you are questioning what you’ve done - or haven’t done - to prepare your child for this process.

Breathe! The entire college application process is overwhelming- for the student and for parents. You think, when I did this it was easy. I picked out two or three colleges, filled out a few handwritten applications, and sent in my deposit. It’s so complicated and stressful today! It’s true that the landscape has changed, and the whole process is more competitive. But it’s still about growing up, exploring possibilities and nurturing dreams. And it doesn’t have to create undue anxiety. Here are five ways to reduce stress and anxiety for you and your student this fall:

1. Take a step back

If you are panicking about deadlines and worried that your kid isn’t doing enough, they can sense it. They are probably just as stressed as you and every time you remind them of the mountain of tasks that need to be done, they feel inadequate. Teens tend to shut down when they are feeling overwhelmed - their brains just can’t handle all the input! A hallmark of anxiety is avoidance, and if you find your child is avoiding tasks you can bet the anxiety is at an all-time high. It may seem counterintuitive, but pull back a bit. Let them take the lead.

2. Listen to your child

Letting your child take the lead means listening to them. Ask them how they feel, and give them the space to talk. Don’t respond right away, or try and “fix” things for them. Find out what their expectations are - and compare them to your own. Your kid’s desires and expectations may be different than yours. Or they may have once been aligned, but now are taking different paths. Make sure you are both on the same page. Sometimes your child just needs to feel supported and heard.


3. Create small, manageable goals

Once you are on the same page, sit down and create goals together. Make a list of tasks that need to be done to accomplish these goals. If you are in the thick of application season with a high school senior, create specific weekly goals that can help work towards deadlines. If you are the parent of a junior, look at things monthly, and focus more on research and prep for your student. The key here is to make a list of tasks that can be easily achieved and instill a sense of accomplishment, and thus confidence. It is this confidence that will help to ease anxiety and stress.


4. Communicate

Talk to one another. Check in and continue to make sure you are on the same page. Continue to listen to your chid and make space for dialogue. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of “why haven’t you done your extra-curricular list yet?”, ask “what do you think you’ve been most passionate about? What were some of your favorite activities?” and have a real discussion about their interests and achievements, allowing them to then identify these on their application more readily.


5. Take time to play and relax

Make sure you - and your kid - are making time for fun and relaxation. Both you and your chid should do things for yourselves - make a conscious choice to put away all things college and go for a walk, spend time with friends, see a movie. Do things with your child completely unrelated to college prep activities. Plan a fun family outing. Remember to be present and breathe. Take time to find your joy and help your kid find theirs. The rest will come.


Remember, this process is supposed to lead your child to a place where they will learn, grow and thrive. Set the tone for that. Your child will eventually find their “fit”, and this process will be a distant memory. Try your best to step back and implement these tips, and you may even enjoy it!


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