How To Avoid Freaking Out While Applying To College

Happy students

How does one… not “freak out”… during the uber stressful college application journey?

The correct answer here requires placing one’s goal posts (quite literally the demarcations of one’s actual goals) in the correct places. This is not only harder than it sounds, the failure to do so in a thoughtful manner explains why most parents and students experience unhealthy – and avoidable – college-application-related stress. Truly, it’s an epidemic, and if we’re serious about addressing it, we need a methodical approach that cuts to the root of the issue.

The students we’re talking about here typically have some kind of life ambition, and attending a certain college represents a significant milestone toward that goal. The problem begins when focus drifts away from the overall goal and onto the path. In fact, the only thing that matters is achieving the goal; the path is ultimately irrelevant. Simply by keeping the focus attached to the true end goal, it illuminates the reality that, in fact, there are several pathways that might lead to it. Not all pathways are quick, or smooth, or attractive. But, again, so long as the focus remains on the goal, it won’t matter.

Why is this important?

Mostly because this liberation from the pathway needing to look a certain way, can profoundly mitigate stress at any milestone along one’s journey. This is the key stress-abatement strategy. The individual who adopts this approach takes inevitable stress flare-ups, and converts them into more productive exercises of determining alternative pathways to stay on track toward the ultimate prize. Remaining committed to the overall goal and therefore remaining open to finding a solution (any solution), makes it impossible for pressure to mount in an unhealthy way at any single moment.

Using this approach as a foundation, more energy can go toward tackling challenges instead of being stressed out by them. There is no denying that college admissions can be a breeding ground for anxiety. But let’s put our approach to the test and develop a few practical ways to mitigate stress while we go after our goals.

1) Stay on Target – To reiterate, keep your eye on the end goal, and remember that mini-milestones are simply a means to end, not ends in and of themselves.

2) Start Early – Work backwards from your deadlines, and include plenty of padding to stay not just on schedule, but ahead of it. Junior year and fall-semester senior year will be the hardest, so factor that in.

3) Ignore Statistics – Statistics like “acceptance rates” can pull focus away from the end goal and onto unproductive usage of brainpower. Focus your mind on solidifying your profile. Statistics have no bearing on that aspect of your application. The greater the sense of control, the lower the stress levels.

4) Avoid Too Many Cooks – This is another fatal misstep: seeking even more than one opinion. If you trust someone enough to solicit their opinion, it stands to reason that you’ll feel compelled to address feedback once they give it. Doing this more than once usually creates unnecessary anxiety (through the discovery of “new problems” or “new great ideas” and can lead to a vicious cycle of over-editing and second-guessing. Find one mentor (if at all), and never look back.

One crucial clarification: relaxing your grip on the path is not the same as relaxing your grip on the overall goal. In fact, what we’re recommending is a prescription for doubling down on your determination, and establishing a pact with yourself that you will achieve your goal regardless of what the path may look like.

This attitude leads to a willingness to entertain multiple paths, and make smart choices about always choosing the smartest paths that lead to the end goal, regardless of their luster. By keeping the goal in focus, and not the path, it takes the usual stress of something like attending your fifth choice school versus your first choice), and shunts it toward a more productive outlet of figuring out how best to move the ball downfield, toward your unchanged end goal.

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