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Managing Anxiety During the College Application Process

Applying to college is known to increase anxiety--for kids, for parents, and for families. The stakes feel high. Parents and kids can feel judged by where they apply and attend college. And recent unpredictability around college admissions can put everyone on edge.

Here are a few things to remember that can help reduce anxiety around the process:

  • Fewer than 120 US colleges have acceptance rates that are less than 30%. The vast majority of colleges have acceptance rates closer to 65%. When we focus only on the “highly rejective” colleges, we unnecessarily increase the stress.

  • What you do in college is far more important than where you go. Gallup led a study in 2014 that looked at factors that lead to long-term outcomes of well-being as adults. They found six key college experiences: having a professor who cares about you and excites you about learning, having a mentor that encourages you to follow your dreams, working on projects for more than one semester, having access to internships, and being involved in extra-curricular activities. (Check out this article if you want to read more: “A Fit Over Rankings” through Stanford’s Challenge Success). There are hundreds and hundreds of lesser-named colleges, such as the ones described in “The Colleges That Change Lives” by Loren Pope (check out the website at, where students develop deep, meaningful relationships with professors and have access to fantastic opportunities, such as research and internships, that provide deep engagement. Please check them out and have an open mind!

So what can you do to manage the anxiety that surrounds this process?

  • Use this time and opportunity to design YOUR path. Delve into what YOU want. Explore what colleges offer these days (many of them are changing their focuses and programs as we speak). Having the outlook that YOU have agency to find the right colleges for you can be incredibly helpful. You are looking for colleges that will make YOU happy, not your friends or your parents or your grandparents. Remember that you’re the one who will be stuck living at a college in January of freshman year. Why would you want to be someplace that’s better suited for someone else? Start looking at colleges in junior year and marvel at the riches that our country’s colleges and universities provide.

  • Create a balanced list where you can see yourself attending each college you apply to. Select a few colleges that are super likely that you’ll get into, choose another handful that are likely you’ll get into, and choose a small handful of others that are highly unlikely to get into (those are typically with <20% admissions rates). Again, if you can choose a whole slate of colleges--where you’d be happy to go to each and every one--you will significantly decrease your anxiety during the process. You will know that you will, more than likely, be going to a college where you will thrive.

  • Apply to one rolling admissions college if you can. Knowing that you are actually going to college early on in the season can significantly reduce anxiety.

  • Make a detailed plan for tackling all that needs to be done. Getting your personal essay and the activities list done before summer ends will make your senior year significantly less hectic and less stressful.

  • And let me know how I can help guide you. Applying to college can be downright exhilarating, and I love nothing more than helping students figure out who they are, what they want, and how to get there.

I help students and their families navigate the college admissions process. I empower students to figure out who they are and where they belong, and I provide structure, insight, and enthusiasm as we find colleges that are the best fit academically, socially, and financially. Contact me at for a 30 minute complimentary session to learn more!

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