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Nine Ways to Reduce Stress Around the College Process

It's that time of year -- no, not the holiday season -- the college admissions season. Here are some simple ways you and your student can reduce the stress around the college process from Julie Carter, Episcopal's Associate Director of College Counseling. Mrs. Carter has provided nine ways for parents and nine ways for students to help families manage this exciting, and sometimes challenging time.

Nine Ways to Reduce Stress Around the College Process -- For Parents

 Maintain (or develop) a healthy attitude about college. 

  • Expand your thinking about “good” schools. With nearly 4,000 colleges in the U.S., as well as an array of international options, there are many schools that could be good fits. Keep an open mind and consider colleges with a fresh set of eyes. Things have changed and continue to change. 
  • Temper your enthusiasm for super-reach schools. Putting all your hopes into just a couple of schools, particularly those who deny the majority of their applicants, is a limiting and stressful course of action.  
  • If you say things, off-offhandedly or directly, that suggest certain schools aren’t “good enough”, your child may feel pressure and anxiety to meet what they perceive as your expectations, though they have no control over the admission process (the decision, the applicant pool, the nuanced factors in any given school).
  • Remember that your child’s college list is not a Parental Score Card. If your child is admitted to a highly selective school, that doesn’t mean you’re a super parent. If your child is admitted to a school with open enrollment, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.

Dial down the test pressure 

  • Taking the SAT or ACT over and over again won’t necessarily improve the score. Find a healthy balance between preparing for the tests and decompressing. Test anxiety or stress is not likely to help on test day.
  • Take a paced approach to your child’s testing. Talk to your Episcopal College Counselor to plan a timeline best suited to your child. There will be plenty of opportunities if you make a plan early on. 
  • Remain positive and offer support. Remind your child that the test doesn’t define them or their success. There are a lot of great schools that do not use the ACT/SAT scores in the admissions process, allowing students to go “test-optional” and take the emphasis off the tests.

Focus on authenticity

  • Encourage your child to choose courses that are meaningful to them, choosing Honors or AP level in subjects that intrigue them or play to their strengths and balance those with other courses. Aiming for balance in academics will make room for new, meaningful learning opportunities while managing stress. 
  • Encourage your child to focus on activities that are meaningful to them. Active engagement in a few areas is better than scattered, busy (read: stressed) schedule. Think quality over quantity. 

Minimize transference of your fears. Your child picks up on your emotions; if you appear worried and tense, it may unintentionally increase anxiety. It’s normal to worry about things such as cost, paying for college, whether your child will be admitted, or simply the idea of your child moving away. 

  • Avoid hovering and try to help manage your child’s stress
  • Be involved, but not overly involved. Provide counsel and insight when appropriate, but empower your child to grow and develop through this process. Let their work be theirs. Let them be front and center.
  • Watch your pronouns: we, our, and us are signs that you are likely over-involved. 
  • Reassure your child that whatever the outcome, you’ll still be there with love and advice.

Sit down as a family to have an open and honest conversation about expectations, parameters, and options before your child applies to college. Discuss what the student wants, what the parent wants, and what is allowed (distance, costs, etc.) Note: Each school has a Net Price Calculator to estimate your actual costs. 

  • Set a mutually-agreed-upon time to talk about college each week and limit college talk to that time, beginning in junior year. Hold off on specific college search and application conversations before junior year. This will give your child a balance of independence and accountability and ensure that your relationship doesn’t become narrowly focused on college. Come to the meeting with questions and information, but leave behind comparisons to how things “used to be” or discussion about other students’ search or application experiences. 
  • Avoid talking about your child’s college process with family and friends. Cocktail or sideline chatter can lead to unsolicited advice, unfair comparisons, and sharing of urban legends that can stoke worry or comparison. Avoid asking other parents about their child’s process; everyone’s process is unique and information shared is often incomplete, exaggerated, or inaccurate. Typically, this increases anxiety rather than quelling fears.
  • Seek guidance and advice from your child’s Episcopal College Counselor if you have questions, concerns, fears, or to ask about things you’ve read or heard. We’re here to help you through this and provide you with the most timely information and personalized guidance every step along the way.


Nine Ways to Reduce Stress Around and the College Process -- for Students


Talk to your College Counselor, regularly. Attend planned meetings and workshops. The workshops, classes, and information sessions we lead are intentionally designed to guide you through the process. The more we know you and your aspirations, the more we can provide personalized and specific information for you. We’re here to help you through this every step along the way.

  • Maintain (or develop) a healthy attitude about college. (See number 1 in the Parent Edition)
  • When your parents or counselor suggest a school, keep an open mind. 
  • Be willing to consider places that may be unfamiliar to your family or friends. Consider what matters most to you and let that guide you, rather than relying on the opinions of others alone. 

Dial down the test pressure. (See number 2 in the Parent Edition)

  • Try to avoid the “culture of comparison” - keep your scores to yourself and respect your friends and classmates by letting them keep theirs private as well. 
  • Plan ahead. Talk to your Episcopal College Counselor to discuss a testing timeline specific to you.

Focus on authenticity.

  • Choose courses that are meaningful to you, choosing Honors or AP level in subjects that intrigue you or play to your strengths and balance those with other courses. Aiming for balance in academics will make room for new, meaningful learning opportunities while managing stress. 
  • Focus on activities that are meaningful to you. Active engagement in a few areas is better than a scattered, busy (read: stressed) schedule. Think quality over quantity. 

Set a mutually-agreed-upon time to talk about college each week.

  • Bring your parents up-to-date on your list, your thoughts, your concerns, your progress. Answer their questions. And ask some of your own.  
  • Let them know if and how they can help you (e.g. researching scholarships, reviewing your essay, completing financial aid apps). 
  • Come ready to engage in the conversation and make forward progress as an individual and as a team. 
  • Consider starting with one hour a week in junior year and two hours a week in senior year.

Plan ahead and create a schedule. Start early and break it down into small, manageable steps. 

  • Junior year - Set aside two days a week for your college search. Research one college each day. As you find schools that are a good fit, add them to your shortlist.
  • Spring of junior year -  Thoughtfully complete your  assignments from your College Counseling Class.
  • Summer between junior and senior year - work on applications, essay drafts, etc.
  • Senior year - Prioritize what is important, realize when deadlines are, and discover how much time you need for each application, essay, etc. 

Make time for yourself.

  • Be sure to eat well, drink water, exercise, and maintain a healthy sleep schedule. 
  • Give yourself time to relax and do something you enjoy to take a break. 

Keep everything organized. Read directions for each school, carefully.

  • Create a folder (physical or digital) to store all things college-application related, including passwords. 
  • During the college search, create a spreadsheet, list, or chart to keep track of what each school you’re considering has to offer.
  • During the application process, create a spreadsheet, list, or chart to keep track of application requirements and deadlines. 

Maintain your existing support systems and choose a small subset to serve as your sounding board for the college search and application experience (your parents, a couple of friends, your counselor, a trusted teacher). Choose folks, whose opinions and voices you trust, to offer you honest feedback or challenge, to hold you accountable, and to encourage you along the way. 



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