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Applying To College Without Completely Freaking Out

Senior year of high school can bring a lot of feelings.  It’s exciting to the ‘top of the food chain’ age-wise at school, have fun events like Senior sunrise, prom/ Senior ball, finally get to hold leadership positions in your clubs and activities, etc.  However… simultaneously while you’re doing high school and probably needing to balance a pretty intense schedule of classes, applying to colleges can be a major to do list item for the Fall.  It can be scary and overwhelming.  Many teens worry about how to navigate the Fall of their Senior year.  In today’s blog entry, I’ll provide some time-tested tips (some of these apply to Juniors too, like my advice to go to college night events and college visits at your own high school).  – and stay tuned, as my next blog entry will be what to do when you get in/ how to decide which college to go to. 

Cast a Wide Net – I know, I know, it’s pricey applying to multiple colleges but my advice is to budget for it and cast a wide net by applying to several colleges (often 10+).  You may not get in to your favorite, or you may find a new favorite as the year progresses, and you’ll want to have options.  The application fees spent can give you piece of mind that you’ll have more choices come decision time. A lot can happen in a year.  Think of how far away Winter break of 2020 was – no vaccines were available yet, school shut down, etc – and yet that was only 9 months ago.  A lot can happen in 9 – 12 months, don’t panic if you don’t feel “ready” for college right this minute.  College Vine is a free website that can help categorize what schools will be “safety”, “reach”, and “on target” for you specifically, as you enter in your grades, activities, etc. www.collegevine.com

Organization is Your BFF – It’s important to stay organized as you’re applying to multiple colleges and keeping track of what forms you have and have not sent in, what fees are due when, which schools need what items (essays? etc)  https://www.weadmit.com/blog/5-tricks-for-organizing-your-college-applications 

Go to the College Night Events – At your school and/or local schools, there will be free college night events.  They are great ways to meet representatives from colleges, ask them questions, gather informative brochures, find out more about the financial aid process, and more. 

Use Your High School’s College and Career Center/ Guidance Counselors – Most [Sacramento, CA] area high schools have a college and career center and/or designated guidance counselors for college prep and/or your guidance counselor navigates this.  Take them up on their offers to review and edit your college app essays, sign up for their Remind app notification (if they have that or something similar) so you hear what college representatives will be coming to your school on what days.  Go meet the college representatives of the colleges you’re most interested in – so few students take advantage of this, so scarf your lunch if you have to or save it to eat in your next class and go to the guidance office and get that one-on-one attention and learn more about the colleges you’re interested in.

Focus on the Day-to-Day/ Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – Larger goals are best accomplished when we break them into smaller steps.  Focus on the small, day-to-day, week-to-week things you need to do for applications, and don’t try to get too far ahead of yourself/ don’t look too far down the line.  Just as if you had to save $250 by Halloween, it would be the daily and weekly things that would add up; if you focused on the $250 when you only had $7 saved, it would be discouraging, but little by little and with each choice you make, you can make it to your goal.

Do Things to Make Your Future Self Happy – My future self will be happy if I put gas in the car on the way home, even thought I’m tired, because then I won’t have to deal with it tomorrow morning in the rush to school or work.  Just like that, your future self will be happier and less stressed if you get things done, so that’s power you can use to help yourself complete some of your steps even when you don’t feel like it.

Reward Yourself Along the Way – The college application process is a marathon, not a sprint.  Figure out what would help move you along and do those things at regular intervals.  If you want more ideas on how to motivate yourself, check out my blog post on that very topic at https://hopeintherapy.com/how-your-teen-can-motivate-themselves/

Stay in Your Own Business –  Winnie from Physics class got in early decision to a great school and can’t stop talking about it… But so what?  YOU stay focused on YOU.  Send out some good vibes to Winnie and believe that the right college will happen for you, too.  Borrowing a concept from author Byron Katie, there are only three kinds of business in the world: My business, Your business, and God/ The Universe’s business.  Winnie getting in to college early is her business.  If I leave MY business (my priorities, my peace, my progress, my apps) to focus on what I think her life is like, that’s gonna cause me stress.  (https://thework.com/)  All that said, “mind your own business” is a good reminder to avoid playing that comparison game.

Daily Self-Care – You are going to be miserable if you spend all your time doing school, work, and applying to colleges.  Not suggesting you take a vacation every weekend, but please please do find some things for daily breaks and self-care.  Some ideas are: exercise, take a walk, play with a pet, do something pampering for yourself, get a treat, meditate, do something creative, chat with a friend.

Weekly Breaks from College Chat – Do your mental health a favor and institute for yourself, your family, and your friend group, designated times where you intentionally don’t talk about college or any college related stuff.  It’ll take up a lot of your bandwidth and is important for families to check-in about BUT the anticipatory anxiety of having to discuss college apps at family dinner all the time can be too much.  Make concerted effort to talk about other [lighthearted] things going on in your life and in the world. 

Still Have Fun as a Senior – The College application process is time-consuming but don’t forget about your present day life.  Senior year can be a lot of fun, too.  Go to the events you want to go to, catch that final football game, etc.

Get Professional Help If You Need It – Senior year can be a lot!  If your mental health is suffering in this process, that is important to tend to!  Professional counseling can really help.

I love seeing teens and adults in my psychotherapy practice!  If you are a California resident and would like to work with me or to have me counsel your teen, please contact me, I’d love to hear from you. I have an office in midtown Sacramento, an office in El Dorado Hills, or I can provide tele-health through a secured platform.  I can be reached through my website at www.hopeintherapy.com


Stay tuned to my blog or be sure to subscribe to the e-newsletter because next time we’ll talk about what to do when they do get in / how to decide what college to go to.  In the meantime, parents you may benefit from checking out my blog post on what to expect when your teen is applying to college.  https://hopeintherapy.com/what-to-expect-when-your-teen-is-applying-to-college/