As your high school career comes to an end, it seems like the only questions your family asks these days are about college. Why can’t the questions go back to being about sports? Or your favorite TV show?
Escape the looming anxiety about college applications by shifting your thinking before those letters come in. Let’s talk about how to cope with anxiety before hearing your college application results.
You’re Not Crazy, and You’re Not the Only One Panicking
The adults in your life may act like getting into college is all about grades, hard work, and “earning” it. However, for some people, getting into college is more determined by factors like affordability, accessibility, and equal opportunity. If a well-funded public high school can afford to offer several AP and honors courses, their students will be more prepared for college-level content and classroom structures.
Under-funded public high schools are less likely to offer courses like this, putting their students at a disadvantage when they apply. Some universities attempt to compensate for this by using a holistic approach when reviewing applicants. However, this can leave the handful of students who do attend feeling like fish out of water, putting them at risk of dropping out from the academic pressure and culture shift.
We’re also facing a public health crisis around anxiety in high-achieving school districts because of the competitive nature of it all. That, plus the cultural expectation that you need a degree to secure a living wage and reasonable benefits, is enough to make someone feel desperate to succeed.
Pick the Best Fit For You, Not the “Best” School of the Year
It’s important to remember that colleges are businesses. They benefit from appearing on ranked click-bait lists, like “The Top 10 Most Fun Colleges in the U.S.” or “The Best Marketing Colleges to Apply For”. These lists have nothing to do with you and everything to do with that college wanting to get their name out.
Instead of considering what college is objectively the “best”, focus on what college would be best for you. If all your applications could be great fits, then one acceptance letter shouldn’t mean more than another. If you go to the “best” college that picks you simply because you think it’s the “best”, you may end up putting yourself at risk for more achievement pressure and burnout—two things that lead to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Reshape How You Think About Status
If you’re someone who gets anxious about parental approval, this statistic might help you breathe easier. One developmental psychologist found that most parents prefer to raise a caring child over a high-achieving child.
While larger colleges come with the added benefit of a broad alumni network, that doesn’t guarantee you more success than a smaller college would. (Especially if you’re worried about large classes deterring you from connecting with your professors.) You may find that building your own professional network outside of your school’s alumni proves to be more fulfilling.
You’re Done Testing, Applying, and Essay-Writing… Enjoy Your Senior Year!
Senior year can be bittersweet. You want to celebrate all the senior nights and drive around with your hometown besties until the last possible second. Don’t be afraid to dive into it all!
Your head may be spinning with thoughts of, “I didn’t do enough,” “I could’ve pulled that C up to a B,” or “Why couldn’t I come up with a better ending to my essay?” Hindsight bias can really drag down your senior year if you let it get to you.
Remember—you performed the best you could at the time with the tools and energy you had available. It’s easy to say you could’ve found a better path forward when you’re looking back at it from the other side.