From college applications, to midterms and finals, to holiday travel-- this time of year can be particularly stressful for students of all ages, but especially for high school seniors with application deadlines looming. It is possible your student may be experiencing feelings of stress and anxiety due to the great effort and pressure that comes with college application season. Depending on your child, these may be brand new feelings or familiar ones. Regardless, it is important to be able to recognise the signs of heightened anxiety and respond to your child with support and understanding. In the following article, we'll give you some guidance on how to do that.
What can anxiety look like?
Each student, with their unique experiences and personality, will respond to stressors differently. Let's talk about what this looks like in terms of the college application process.
Some students may become increasingly hyperactive, responding to stress by rushing to get things over with. This can lead to careless mistakes, overthinking, and productive low quality work that doesn't capture their talents.
On the other hand, students may become increasingly avoidant of work. This can manifest in missed meetings with their advisor or counselor, procrastinating on essay writing or other tasks, and even statements that they do not want to attend college. These are all behaviors that come from a place of anxiety and stress, responding to a nerve-wracking situation by avoiding it altogether.
How can parents support?
Noticing these signs of stress and anxiety can be distressing for parents who just want the best for their child. With the goal of the college application process to get into a university where your child will be healthy and happy, it is upsetting when the process itself threatens that health and happiness. We have some advice on how to respond in the moment (reactive) or plan in advance (proactive).
Reactive: You have already noticed these behaviors and emotions in your student
Talk with them: approach your child with an open mind and ask what they need from you as their support system. See if they can identify what is causing them stress and discuss strategies to deal with that task.
Validate feelings: Let them know that what they are feeling is completely normal, especially for someone with so much on their plate! See if you can connect with them by sharing a story of a time you felt similar feelings and what helped you get through it.
Talk to your child's doctor: if you notice a pattern of behavior or emotions that is disruptive to their daily routine or otherwise distressing, please reach out to their pediatrician for expert support.
Proactive: You are thinking about the upcoming college application process but have not begun yet!
Plan in advance: a major pitfall families make on the application journey is to save everything for senior year. This leads to a jam-packed and unnecessarily stressful senior fall. Instead, by beginning essay brainstorming and writing, recommendation letters, and college lists in 11th grade, you can front load some of the tasks and give your student a longer timeline to produce an application they are proud of.
Discuss strategies to deal with stress: One of the most helpful ways to prepare your child for stressful life moments is to discuss strategies to deal with stress in advance. Speak to them about positive affirmations, breathing exercises, and journaling as ways to deal with negative emotions in a healthy way. You can even make this part of a family routine to help normalize these tools and normalize talking about mental health. The goal here is to ensure your child will feel comfortable talking to you if they ever experience anxiety.
Set intentions: It is easy to get caught up in application requirements, test scores, and school ranking. These things can distract from the deeper goals your child might have related to finding a welcoming and supportive environment to live and learn in for the next four years. It's important to have a conversation about goals and the purpose of college before you even complete your first campus visit. Explain the purpose of college related not only to academic and career development, but also to self-development of your child into a well-rounded adult.
Parents come to us with many questions about their role in the college application process. We tell them often that this is, ultimately, a student-driven process. The student must feel motivated to create their application materials and pursue their college pathways. But what we also mention is the importance of parental support and understanding throughout the process. This is the key to sustaining student motivation through many stressful months and all the way up to decision day. At Veritas Education, we noticed the students who have the ability to speak maturely about their goals, passions, and feelings find the most success throguh this process.
Our college advising service is designed to reduce stress for both parents and students. You can learn more about our service and the philosophy behind it by scheduling a free 30 minute consultation for you and your high schooler.