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How to Help Seniors Manage College Application Stress

How to Help Seniors Manage College Application Stress

Teach your students coping skills during the stressful college application period.

This is a tough time year for high school seniors. Come spring, college application stress hits and students are preoccupied with getting into their first-choice schools. Some feel the competition with their friends, and others may feel like they missed the boat.

Students can panic, shut down, or show signs of behavioral problems. Because many have never learned coping skills or the ability to deal with adversity, school can become a stressful place. As a teacher, there's a lot you can do to calm this anxiety. Here are some tips.

I Won't Get into My Top Choice College

Some students set their heart on attending a certain college. But what if they're denied admission? I like to tell students the stories of celebrities and a few of my former students who also didn't get into their dream schools, so they can see that it's not the end of the world. Even Tina Fey realized after an interview with Princeton that she probably wouldn't be accepted. Instead, she went to the University of Virginia, and we've all seen her success despite one bump in the road.

Teacers College Master's Degree Scholarships

Stan, a former student in my AP literature class, was dying to attend Brown University. But when he was denied, he was crushed. He went on to attend Brandeis University, and now he's the CEO of his own chain of highly successful restaurants. Stories of success can help ease your students' fears, and reassure them that there are many pathways to success.

I Won't Make Money with My Major

There's plenty of talk about the college majors and career paths that bring a myriad of job opportunities and wealth. But students who want to study art, English, music, or architecture are often dissuaded from pursuing their dreams. In this situation, explain to your students that if they're passionate and determined, they can be successful no matter which major they choose.

It may be impactful to bring in a successful graphic designer, for example, to speak to your students about how to achieve new heights in the field, which can help soothe student worries. I even use my own story as an example. My father warned me I'd never find a job or make money teaching—but now I teach high school, work as an adjunct professor at a local college, and conduct presentations nationwide. A college major is what the student makes of it—not what others perceive it to be.

I'm on the Wait List

The ambiguity of being wait-listed often sends students into a panic. But there's plenty that your students can do to help their situation. First, they should call the admissions office to get a sense of their chances—many colleges have a priority list, and they'll let students know. Second, students should write a letter to the university reaffirming their desire to attend, and highlight any new achievements that weren't in the initial application.

Further reading: Career Paths for Students after High School

I Can't Afford It

College is expensive, and many students don't have the money to attend full-time. Instead, I encourage my students to look at less expensive options. Online colleges and community colleges are, in most cases, far more affordable. I also motivate concerned students to go to school part-time, the way I did. I worked 40 hours a week at a law firm and attended college part-time. While it took me a bit longer to earn my degree, I didn't have a single college loan payment to worry about when I graduated.

I Messed Up

Some students, for a variety of reasons, may not be heading off to a four-year college. These students are often distressed at this time of year, and may feel they have nowhere to go. As a result, they can shut down and act out.

It's important for these students to know of other pathways to success. There are many community colleges that accept students from all academic backgrounds, and taking online courses can help students stay in the academic game. There are also programs like Year Up that train students for jobs in the business world. Additionally, there's nothing wrong with working for a few years, saving money, and then attending college. This may be the time they need to grow and mature so they're ready for the rigorous coursework of college.

Relax: Everything Will Be OK

Teaching coping skills and mental toughness to your students can help them overcome their fears and worries. I love to bring in former students to tell their tales of overcoming adversity. When students see how their peers have landed on their feet, they'll realize that they can, too.

Further reading: SAT and ACT Test Prep: Get Your Students Ready for College Admissions Exams​

Helping your students relax and regroup during stressful times can ensure effective teaching for the remainder of the year. My friend, Erin, starts every class with a yoga bell, and has her stressed-out students take a few minutes for "mindful meditation." This creates a calming energy and allows students to focus on the material. "Brain breaks," like those scheduled after every 45 minutes of instruction in Finland, can help students relax and recharge.

I also encourage my students to incorporate at least 20 minutes of exercise into their day. Exercise has been scientifically proven to improve mental health by relieving stress, anxiety, panic disorders, and depression. Encouraging students to do aerobic exercise, take a walk, or go for a run can have immediate positive effects both inside and outside of the classroom.

College application stress really hits seniors during the second half of the year. But it's within your power to bring coping methods and clarity to the classroom. With these tips, your students will look forward with positivity, which helps you get back to the lesson plan.