Applying for and choosing which college to attend can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming process. However, this does not have to be the case. It is important to remind yourself, first and foremost, that there is no “perfect” college, just as there is no “perfect parent.” What makes a college the right choice is up to you and how the college fits into your goals, interests, and priorities. Now, these goals, interests, and priorities are unique to YOU. They may differ from those of your friends, teachers, and even your parents. That’s OK.
According to a Zinch.com survey, more than 40% of college bound students reported that they experienced a “great deal” of stress when applying to/choosing a college. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! It is possible to get through the college selection process without adding unnecessary stress. Here are some tips:
Start early and get organized. Making big decisions last minute can increase stress exponentially. Think of the most important factors, in your mind, that come into play when choosing a college. These may include: academic programs, location, expenses vs. financial aid/assistance, size, admission requirements, housing, activities offered, etc. It can be helpful to create a table that visually compiles all of the important information you will need to apply and choose the right college for you. This will help you to weigh the pros and cons of each school as you navigate the application process. Additionally, keep a calendar handy that organizes key dates and deadlines. This way, all of the information will be in one place and hard to miss.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Parents, teachers, coaches, and friends can all be good resources during this process. You may need assistance in making college visits, getting letters of recommendation, and identifying your goals in college. From the start, it can be helpful to sit down with your parents to discuss financial considerations. Although discussing money can be stressful, it can reduce stress to know your options from the beginning.
Don’t focus on the rejections. After the applications are submitted…we wait. Everyone will receive rejections when applying for college. This does not mean that you are not good enough, smart enough, or impressive enough. Colleges are bombarded with applications with a limited amount of spots to fill. Focus your energy on the colleges that accepted you and making the right choice for yourself based on those colleges. You may have had your heart set on a prestigious college that did not accept you. Remind yourself that it is your character that contributes to your success, not only the name of the college.
Don’t feel pressured to make the “PERFECT” college choice or choose a major prematurely. Few things in life are permanent. That is, we all want to be happy with our first college choice, though if it’s not a good fit after all, that’s OK. The National Association for College Admission Counseling reports that 1 in 3 students that attend a four-year college transfer to a different institution. We want to choose the college that seems like best fit, while reducing the pressure of having to choose the PERFECT school. Furthermore, a study by Penn State, reports that 70 percent of students change their major at least once while in college, and 20 percent change it two or more times. You may want to focus on your interests when entering into college, though keep an open mind. The next four years is a time for you to expand on your interests and learn more about yourself and your strength areas!
It’s okay to listen to feedback from your friends and family, but remember to ultimately trust your own gut feelings from where you should apply to what you write your essays about, and in the end, where you choose to attend!
Make sure to practice relaxing! During this process, stress can become overwhelming. Take some time each day to relax and practice healthy coping skills. Take a walk, talk to a friend, draw, play with a pet, exercise, listen to music, or talk to a therapist. Remember to take breaks and know when to quit for the day. We can only focus on applications and essays for so long without feeling stressed. Set your cell phone timer for 30-45 minutes while you work to remind yourself that you need to get up, stretch, and relax for a bit while you work.
If we can reduce the pressure of finding the PERFECT college and the RIGHT major, we can focus on the aspects of college that are most important. We want to be able to find an institution that fits with our own life perspective and priorities, while being able to facilitate higher learning. Finally, if you find yourself feeling bogged down by all of the details; focus on all of the exciting aspects of the next four years: making new friends, interesting classes, and long awaited independence!