How to: Manage College Application Stress
As the New Year approaches, there are likely a lot of things on your mind: the holidays, winter break, your personal goals for 2017… and college applications. For many schools, the regular decision application deadline is January 1, and plenty more follow soon after. That reminder alone can be overwhelming but, regardless of where you are in your application process, you don’t have to succumb to the stress that could easily come with those deadlines. Ahead, find 10 tips from experts on how to stay relaxed, productive, and positive as you approach the home stretch.
1. Keep everything organized.
Regardless of how many schools you’re applying to, you probably have a lot of information to keep track of. Get every single bit of it out of your head and on paper — or some sort of digital organization system. Jodi Rosenshein Atkin, a college admissions consultant, suggests creating a grid. “List all your schools, the deadlines, whether they need test scores, how many recommendations they require, [if] they use the Common Application, and [if] they require supplemental materials (such as additional essays or short answer questions),” she tells Cheer Magazine. “Then as you complete things, such as ordering test scores sent, you can check it off. That can help ensure you do not accidentally omit a school from the test reports or forget to answer a supplemental essay question.”
And be extra sure you won’t miss any deadlines by putting them all — including important checkpoints before the full application deadlines — into a digital calendar, like your Google or Apple calendar that will sync across all of your devices. Katie Fang, founder and CEO of SchooLinks, suggests setting automated reminders for each deadline. “I recommend one a week out, one three days out, one the day before, and one the day of,” she tells Cheer Magazine. “That way you never miss a single deadline!”
2. Make the work fun.
Yes, college applications are work — and hard work, at that. But, rather than let yourself sink into a “doom and gloom” mindset as the pressure reaches its peak, look for ways to make the work seem less like, well, work. Ask yourself, “How can you make this process feel better?” Jenny Giblin, a therapist and yoga instructor who specializes in managing stress, tells Cheer Magazine. “Make a playlist [or] light some candles. […] Get cute file folders in colors that you like, or something small that makes you happier and more productive at the same time.”
3. Reward yourself and take breaks.
When you’re in the home stretch, it’s important to buckle down and focus on all of your important tasks — but it’s just as important to give yourself chances to recharge. Work has a diminishing return over time,” Austin Fadley, author and student success coach, tells Cheer Magazine. “In other words, you get less productive the more you work and study. Taking quick 10-minute breaks throughout a chunk of time can help give your mind enough of a rest to get back at it when you sit down again.”
Schedule your breaks at specific time intervals or checkpoints in your work, so they’re still structured. “During breaks, do something you enjoy like exercising, watching an episode of your favorite TV show, or taking a short nap,” Johan Zhang, co-founder of CollegeVine — which recently launched the Zen blog to support mental health during the college application process — tells Cheer Magazine. “Just make sure that your ‘break’ doesn’t go on for too long. Watching ‘just one episode’ is really different from clearing through an entire season.”
4. Take care of yourself.
Rewards and breaks are one important part of staying sane as you complete your applications. But it’s also crucial to pay attention to your physical health. “Even though drinking a ton of coffee, sleeping very little, and writing for ridiculously long hours can make you feel like you’re working intensely hard, in reality most things in life are marathons, not sprints,” Zhang says. “In the worst-case scenario, unhealthy behaviors like sleep deprivation can lead to burnout, loss of creativity, and forgetfulness. Be sure to eat well, drink lots of water, exercise, and maintain a healthy sleep schedule!”
Meditation is a great way to keep both your mental and physical health in check, and stay focused and relaxed in the home stretch of application season. Lynne Goldberg, certified meditation coach and co-founder of the app, OMG. I Can Meditate!, tells Cheer Magazine that meditation has been proven to have a whole host of amazing benefits. “When we meditate, we release feel-good hormones like oxytocin and serotonin making us feel happier and less stressed,” she says. “Meditating also enables us to think more calmly with clarity, so you can react more level-headed in a situation where you otherwise might not. That’s why we recommend to start your day off by meditating, which will clear your mind and mentally prepare you for what’s ahead. In addition to reducing stress levels, beginning your day with a meditation session is proven to boost energy levels and help you think more positively.”
And meditation doesn’t need to be some intimidating, intense process, either. You can learn easy, quick methods through apps like OMG! I Can Meditate! and Headspace or basic tips from experts. “I always recommend this simple breathing exercise that you can do any time, anywhere, especially during one of the most stressful times of life,” Giblin says. “Inhale, counting to three; and exhale, counting to six. Continue this breathing cycle taking longer, deeper exhales.”
6. Lean on family and friends. When your stress levels are increasing, let your support system do just that: support you. “Having friends and family members around to support you can be extremely helpful to maintaining a positive outlook,” Zhang says. “One of best ways to relieve stress [is] to talk about what you’re going through with someone you trust. Humans are social creatures, so don’t underestimate the value of communication!”
7. But don’t ask everyone for help with your applications.
It’s one thing to lean on people you trust to talk through your stress; it’s another to ask every person for his or her opinion on your applications, or essays — especially when you’re at the “finishing touches” point. “Students are often inclined to share their application essays with multiple parties,” Mindy Popp, founder and principal consultant at educational consulting firm, Popp & Associates, LLC, tells Cheer Magazine. “However, doing so can lead to students receiving a lot of feedback to make revisions that can feel overwhelming to hear. It is best to find one trusted partner to work with — a college counselor, teacher, [or] parent who can provide support. […] Once an essay is done, it is done! Walk away and don’t question whether it is good enough. When college applicants don’t have confidence in their writing, essays go through unnecessary rounds of edits [and] as a result, students experience additional stress. Know when to recognize that you have given an essay your best shot and be proud of the final product!”
8. Build in time for bumps in the road.
You may be a near-professional procrastinator who does her best work when under serious pressure; but when it comes to your college applications, it’s crucial to build in extra time before your deadlines. “Whatever the due date is, try to target completing the application the day before,” Kelly McClellan, career and life coach and consultant, tells us. “That way, if something goes awry, [like] your computer crashes or you need an extra recommendation letter, you still have one day to get it in. Nothing is worse that trying to submit the application at midnight and giving yourself no room for error or the unexpected.”
9. Prepare for all steps of the application process.
After being so careful to remember every part of your actual application — the basic forms, the essays, the transcripts, the recommendations — don’t find yourself under unnecessary stress at the end because you forgot about some of the most basic parts. “Many applications require credit card payment and information that might only be known to a parent or guardian,” says Ian Parent, associate director of admission at Southern Oregon University. “Be sure you have all the help you need nearby or written down ahead of time.” Parent also suggests submitting your applications from a computer with multiple browsers (in case they don’t work with particular browsers), and writing down your username and password for the different application sites in case you get logged out, or need to come back and finish the application later.
10. Maintain positivity and perspective.
A big part of managing stress is making a conscious decision to not let it get the best of you. “Once you wake up, instead of immediately focusing on everything you need to do that day, take a moment to think of everything you are grateful for instead,” Giblin says. “You can do this just by listing 10 things in your mind, or taking one minute to think of whatever you can, and then get out of bed. The more you shift your thoughts toward gratitude, the better your mood will be and this can last for the entire day. Before you go to bed, you can try it too: Think of all of the good things that happened that day and pick the best one (no matter how little it may be). This literally takes your mind off of things you may be worried about, and can help you wake up and fall asleep feeling more refreshed and less stressed.”
And if you’re stressed because you’re thinking of your college applications in some extreme, all-or-nothing manner; reframe your perspective. “Even though at times it may seem like your college applications will singlehandedly determine the outcome of the rest of your life, in reality it’s not so dramatic,” Zhang says. “College is but a single step in a long journey ahead of you — regardless of where you go, if you work hard and keep an open mind, you’ll turn out just fine. So take a deep breath and just do your best!”