Black young man with vitiligo holds hands to head, eyes closed, looking stressed

Top Tips to Help You Manage Your Stress During College Application Season

Senior year is stressful, with standardized tests, college apps, extracurriculars, and school work. Here are some ways to keep you calm through all of it.

Between taking standardized tests, filling out college and scholarship applications, participating in extracurriculars, and managing your high school classes, life can get pretty stressful for seniors. But senior year also isn’t the time to let yourself slow down or get burnt out with your college goals in reach. With the right balance, you can get everything you need to done with a minimal amount of stress. Here are some easy tips to help manage your stress while preparing for college during application season.

Don’t procrastinate

This advice is perfect, but you actually have to follow it. Unfortunately, most of us prefer to put everything off as long as possible. While this might be semi-manageable in high school, it’s really hard to start writing your college essays on New Year’s Eve and hope for the best. If you have trouble prioritizing, you need to get organized and stop procrastinating. Use any sort of tool to plan your daily life. Experiment and find what works for you. There are plenty of apps, calendars, and planners you can use. Maybe you need to keep a running to-do list or plaster everything with sticky notes—find something helpful and stick to it. I personally love having a small planner that I keep with me throughout the day to manage my school work, appointments, and overarching goals. Writing down deadlines can keep them at the front of your mind. Whenever you get home from school or work, pull out your planner and see everything that you need to get done. This is a great way to manage regular school work in addition to the time you need to devote to college applications and scholarships.

Do your research

Don’t be the person who misses deadlines because they didn’t take the initiative to do some simple research. A lot of our stress comes from the uncertain. Get rid of your “what if,” “how do I,” and “when should I” questions through good old research. Start planning for college with timelines, videos, and articles on Khan Academy, or schedule an appointment with your guidance counselor. If you already know what colleges you’re applying to, make sure to look at their websites to find their specific deadlines. Once you know all the information about applying to your colleges, you can devise a plan for how to best manage your time to finish your applications well before the deadlines. If you have no clue where to start and need all-around tips and timelines, check out the College Board’s Get It Together for College—a planner and college advice book with checklists and helpful hints for everything you need to get yourself ready for college. Just remember, advice books and planners only reduce stress if you actually use them!

Related: A Comprehensive 2-Year Calendar for High School Juniors and Seniors

Plan ahead

Thinking about things in a broad scope can keep you from last-minute panic and long-term stress. Take a look at what kinds of programs you’re interested in starting sophomore and junior year. This can help you plan what classes to take, determine if you need to take the SAT or ACT and manage how much time you’ll have for extracurriculars and scholarship applications. The last thing you want is to find out a school you want to apply to Early Decision requires the SAT with Essay and the deadline is in November, but the next SAT is offered in December. This is pertinent to vacation time as well. It’s really great to take college tours during winter or spring break of junior year to figure out where you want to apply, but the tours may be all booked if you don’t plan ahead. Also, when you’re applying to colleges, try and get most of your essays done the summer before your senior year. This gives you time to revise them, focus on applying for scholarships, and manage your school life without the added stress of more essays.

Be realistic

If you have your heart set on going to MIT to study Theoretical Physics but you’re barely passing Physics now, maybe it’s time to reassess your goals. Forcing yourself into something that isn’t right for you can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Sit yourself down and ask what you really want out of life. This is especially true with trying to boost your résumé with extracurriculars. Colleges would much rather see you pick two activities that show your loyalty and passion than be a member of 10 clubs and spread yourself so thin that your grades suffer. Taking on too much can cause a lot of stress. Those four clubs you’re running sophomore and junior year are going to be a lot more work senior year during college application season.

This also pertains to the number of schools you’re applying to—don’t try to apply to a million schools. Counselors and agree you should apply to six to eight schools, with a range of back-up, match, and reach schools. Up to 15 schools is okay—just make sure you’ll be happy at each school if you decide to enroll, you have the time to apply, and you realize applying to all those colleges costs a chunk of money. Applications can add up, and you don’t want to waste your money on a school where you know you won’t be happy.

Related: Choosing the Right College For You

Don’t forget to relax

It doesn’t matter how great your time management skills are—if you never take time specifically for yourself, your stress will make you miserable. Set aside 20 minutes a day to relax or do something you enjoy. This could be working out, cooking, meditating, reading, taking a bath or shower, playing or listening to music, making artwork, journaling, watching TV, or playing video games. Try to write a bullet journal to get organized, take a nap, or do a fun DIY project if you’re not sure where to start. Life is meant to be lived. If you spend all your time preparing for college and none on yourself, your happiness is going to go down and your stress level is going to go way up.

Stay positive

Thinking about your future should be fun! You’re applying to colleges because that’s the path you think will bring you the most happiness, so why not have some fun along the way? If you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, just stop for a minute and take some deep breaths. Spend time with people who make you happy and help you stay positive. Put sticky notes with motivational quotes on objects you use a lot. Find a motivational quote-of-the-day calendar (or maybe just one with cute puppies!) to help increase your positivity.

Related: 7 Easy Ways to Make Your Semester More Mindful

Also make sure to maintain a healthy diet (although one Oreo never hurt anyone…), drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. A lack of these things might make you start to feel physically sick, which is not good for your stress levels. Remember, everything has a way of working out. Even if life throws you a curve ball, a positive mood can help you get through it! 

Need some help with your college applications? Check out our College Admission section for all kinds of app advice!

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About Rebecca Barer

I am an avid reader, and I devote most of my time to writing and cooking. I also enjoy spending time with friends and family and generally enjoying life. I'm so excited to start at Johns Hopkins University this fall!


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