How can I manage the stress of applying to college while keeping up with my school work?


Question: How can I manage the stress of applying to college while keeping up with my school work?

Answer: OK, dear one, I’m going to tackle this question in  two parts. The first part will speak more to the juniors who can use the summer before senior year to alleviate a lot of that stress, whereas the second part will speak to seniors who find themselves still completing college applications.

The summer before senior year is a good time to focus on completing supplements and writing your college essay.  Using that down time to really get clear about what you want to write about and then actually completing your essay makes good sense, because you don’t have the pressures of assessments or nightly homework assignments competing for your time.

Walking into senior year with your college essay squared away will do a great deal to alleviate the stress that can build up in you as you try to navigate present day responsibilities and deadlines with the future oriented tasks associated with completing college applications, which come with their own hard-and-fast deadlines.  

Remember that our college office is open all summer and our counselors are more than happy to work with you on completing the supplements and editing your essay.

Now, if you find yourself halfway through the first semester of your senior year and still needing to write your essay and finish filling out supplements, the first thing I recommend you practice to help you manage your stress is deep breathing.  The stress response that makes your stomach knot, heart race and/or hands shake is caused by high levels of adrenaline and cortisol being released into your bloodstream. It can be interrupted by pausing to focus on breathing in slowly through your nose and exhaling even slower through your mouth. Without that response flooding your bloodstream, you will be more able to focus on completing nightly homework assignments and preparing for assessments, which are tasks that must be attended to.  

Prioritizing is another way to manage stress. Knowing when to ask for extensions and making sure to lean on the relationships you have developed with your teachers can help you temporarily set aside senior year responsibilities in order to focus on completing your college applications which are by definition time sensitive.

Another way to manage your stress levels is to have realistic expectations of yourself. If you know you have to finish a college application and you have not been able to get an extension on an assignment, it behooves you to accept that you might not do as well on that assignment as you would have, had you not had this pressing responsibility also competing for your time.

Rather than focus on the frustration you might be feeling and remaining in resistance, try to replace that inner critic’s voice with a more empathetic one.  

For example, replace the thought  “This is impossible, I’m never going to be able to get this all done” with  “It’s more important that I focus on my college application right now and accept that I’m not going to be able to give my assignment as much time as I would like” because the reality is you can’t do it all to the best of your ability, dear one, without something giving, and it’s better that what gives is you accepting a lower grade rather than your mental health taking the hit.

The last tip I have to offer for managing your stress is to make sure that you are getting good sleep. Sleep deprivation mimics the same symptoms as depression and from that depleted state it is easy for your body to be flooded by the stress response.  Until your college applications are squared away, try very hard to prioritize sleep over screen time.

This can be challenging as screen time is a popular coping mechanism to avoid those feelings of stress. You can see how that becomes a vicious cycle quickly.


-Chastity Rodriguez, Upper School counselor