Hey there! It’s me again, back with three more tips for reducing college application stress!
All my tips come back to the same basic idea: students need to make sure that they take time for themselves. If a student is thinking about college applications all the time, 24/7, 365, they’ll be overwhelmed! (Shoot – I’m a college admissions counselor and I’d be overwhelmed!)
So let’s talk a bit about the steps you and your student can take – outside of the actual college applications and essays – to minimize stress.
#4: Discourage Self-Comparison
Self-comparison is a huge problem that I see year after year.
Perhaps you remember from your own college application experience in high school; I know I sure do.
Here’s how self-comparison goes: Student A gets into school X and Y, but he really wanted to go to school Z. His classmate Student B starts bragging about how he got into School Z, and so Student A starts to wonder if he did something wrong – the spiral of negative self-talk and sinking self-esteem goes on and on, seemingly without end!
The end result? Countless students end up feeling insecure, and that’s never a good place to be.
How do we avoid this trap? In my practice as a college counselor, I always make sure to remind my students that their college journey is unique to them, and that they should feel proud of their accomplishments.
I remind my students that there’s no use comparing themselves to others. Every single student is a unique individual, and comparing two students is like comparing apples and oranges.
I also encourage parents to remind students of these things at home, that way students always get this positive reinforcement.
Of course, I know that students sometimes dismiss what their parents say: “Of course mom is going to say something nice about me, she has to – she’s my mom!” Ok, sure. Parents will say nice things to their kids by default – that’s a fair point.
However, it’s still important to remind your student not to fall into the self-comparison trap.
That’s why I recommend that students surround themselves with positive influences: friends, role models who they look up to, and so on. Spending time around friendly, positive influences is always a positive self-esteem booster, which is a powerful tool in the fight against negative self-talk.
This leads into my next point…
#5: Get Support
Students need support from their parents, but they also need support from other people in their lives who can help them in their college admissions journey.
With the help of a school guidance counselor, your student can be more prepared and confident during their college exploration. A guidance counselor’s whole job is to help students navigate the college application process. Guidance counselors help students with everything from exploring college options, picking the right classes to impress prospective schools, and discovering career/major interests. If you’re interested in financial aid options, these professionals can also provide direction as well. Guidance counselors usually have office hours when they’re available to meet with students. A meeting with a guidance counselor can give students answers to their burning college questions and a strong sense of direction.
Students should keep in mind that guidance counselors are often extremely busy and overworked. According to the American School Counselor Association, the average caseload of a guidance counselor is 1 counselor per 415 students. In my state of California, the average is even worse – 1 counselor to 572 students! It goes without saying that meetings with school counselors tend to be brief, about 10-15 minutes.
This isn’t to say that high school guidance counselors aren’t helpful, they certainly are! I would just encourage your student to plan ahead if they intend on speaking with their guidance counselor. Making an appointment as early as possible, and coming to the appointment with a list of questions, is the best way to maximize one’s time with a guidance counselor.
A list of questions to ask include the following:
What can I do to optimize my competitiveness for [insert college here]?
What strengths does my student profile indicate?
What classes should I take next semester (or year)?
What classes align with my college goals?
How can I discover and/or explore my interests?
Besides high school guidance counselors, another excellent resource for your student is an Independent Educational Consultant. Independent Educational Consultants (or IECs) are high school guidance counselors who work independently, separate from any school. IECs work in their own businesses, either by themselves or as part of a larger team of academic experts (think highly experienced tutors, SAT/ACT test prep gurus, and so on).
Since IECs work privately, their student caseload is much smaller than that of public and private school guidance counselors. Thus, IECs are able to do everything that a high school guidance counselor can, and more! IECs can spend more time with students per meeting: 1 hour instead of 15 minutes. IECs can also meet with students more frequently: once or twice a month instead of once a year.
Because IECs work with a smaller group of students, they can spend more time helping your student craft a highly competitive student profile and college application.
In addition, IECs can answer many questions that the average guidance counselor can’t. Most public or private school guidance counselors know a lot about “name brand” schools (like the UCs) because that’s where their students want to go. An IEC knows about those schools and the multitude of hidden gems that your student might not know about (for instance, did you know that the prestigious UCs have average business programs?).
Guidance counselors and IECs are both familiar with helping students get into undergraduate institutions. However, the extra time and resources that an IEC has at their disposal means that they have more specialized knowledge regarding financial aid maximization, internship opportunities, career prospects after graduation, and competitive post Baccalaureate programs like law or medical school.
Of course, IEC services cost money; however, an effective IEC will most certainly provide a valuable return for your investment.
While guidance counselors and IECs are both excellent resources, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the resources closer to both home and the classroom!
Teachers are excellent resources when it comes to letters of recommendation. Many colleges will ask students for letters of recommendation, particularly if your student is applying to an honors program. Many students might feel awkward or shy about asking a teacher for a letter of rec, but they definitely shouldn’t! Teachers love writing letters of rec – it’s part of their job! If your student has a favorite teacher, odds are that this teacher will have something positive to write about your student!
Coaches and club advisors (aka: teachers that may not teach your student but are familiar with your student) are also excellent sources for a letter of rec. If your student is applying to a faith-based institution, a leader or a youth group leader from your house of worship can be an excellent source as well.
What if your student needs help with college essay writing? Some English teachers are more than happy to give students college essay tips! A second pair of eyes is always a great way for your student to notice writing strengths and weaknesses. And who better than an English teacher to give writing feedback? I should note that not all English teachers provide college essay feedback. Of course, this is not due to a lack of care for your student. Like all teachers, English instructors have heavy workloads and limited time. If your student would like college essay feedback from their English teacher, it’s important that they first ask if they have the time to help.
Finally, some schools will usually run several events to help equip your students for the college admissions process! Many schools host free after-hours events like college fairs, financial aid workshops, and college essay writing lessons.
#6 Focus on College First, Career Second
There’s a common misconception that stresses a lot of high schoolers out: many students think that they have to know what they want to do with their lives before they apply to colleges.
I can see where this misconception comes from. After all, there are students who know from day one that they want to be a doctor, a teacher, or a businessperson. And that’s great! Knowing what one wants to study can certainly provide some clarity during the college search.
But guess what? It’s ok if your student doesn’t know what they want to do with their life! It’s 1000%, totally, completely, fine! (I know I sure didn’t at that age!)
If your student doesn’t know what they want to study – they aren’t at a disadvantage. They shouldn’t focus their attention on trying to figure out what they want to major in so that they can figure out what colleges they should apply to: this creates unnecessary stress. In addition, their interests might change in a year! Instead, undecided students should focus on the most immediate goals: keeping their grades up, and applying to schools that interest them. This will make their application process much less stressful.
I should note that this advice also applies to students who already know what they want to study. A high school student who wants to go to a UC so that they look good for medical school can spend a lot of time beefing up their extracurriculars with impressive internships and volunteer activities. However, if this student neglects their grades, all that effort will make their college application much more stressful, and potentially limit their school options.
College, not high school, is the time for students to figure out their majors and careers. And four years is plenty of time to do so in a stress-free, reasonable way.
But what if your student is in college when they decide to enter a competitive field like med school or law school, and the college they’re attending isn’t a prestigious UC or private school? No problem! It may be a cliche, if your student strongly believes in their goal, anything is possible. (There are a multitude of doctors who got their start at community colleges, for instance.)
So, what’s the takeaway here?
Ultimately, what I’ve been trying to illustrate in this blog series is that your student is more than capable of excelling in their college admissions journey. The fact that you’re reading this shows that your high schooler already has an advantage – a caring parent who is invested in their future. Yes, the process may at times be challenging and full of work, but it is doable, and your student will come out the other side ready to succeed in college and the bright future ahead of them.
Joyee Lin is the Head Instructor at Thinque Prep, an academic advising service specializing in college readiness, tutoring, and SAT/ACT preparation. When Joyee isn’t helping students navigate high school and beyond, he enjoys making college resources available to as many people as possible.
Got a burning college question? Give Joyee a call at (949) 563-1009 or drop him a line at office@thinqueprep. Interested in what the experts have to say about college admissions? Looking for insider tips? Click here!