Reducing stress in the college admissions process
Reducing Stress in the College Admissions Process


I hear you!  We hear you!

 I love my job!  Meeting with teens and mentoring them through the college admissions process is the most rewarding job I know of.  In the midst of spending time with teens across the nation, I hear them.  I really really hear them.  I hear what they are saying and what they aren't saying.  

They are saying that they are completely stressed out by the college admission process!

One thing that is a common thread among them is the pressure they feel to get into the "right" college.  This pressure sometimes even tempts them to do things they know are wrong.  Things like, cheating on a test, or putting down information that is exaggerated on an application to make themselves look better.  Why would they be tempted to do something like that??? They are terrified of being rejected.  It is an awful cycle.  

These teens often think that "college defines them."  They have had a certain school in mind throughout childhood and the thought of "disappointing" themselves, others and their families with a rejection letter is more than they can bear!  

Here is where I come in..... I remind them.... their self worth and value is NOT defined by a school, a test score, a GPA or anything college related. Instead, I remind them, they have value. Their work ethic, their character, the way they treat others....these are the things that will define them. I also let them in on the fact that life has a way of guiding us to where we really ought to be.

 I remind them that sacrificing their personal integrity for a grade or the opinion of another is never ever worth it.  

Knowing and staying true to your personal core values = success in life!

On a brighter note, colleges are starting to acknowledge the massive amount of pressure that the college admissions process is putting on our young people today.  They are considering ideas to level the playing field for all students.  

Harvard address some of these concerns in this article :

The report includes concrete recommendations in three core areas:

The report offers specific recommendations for reshaping the admissions process in each of the following three areas:

1. Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
“We recommend that students engage in forms of service that are authentically chosen – that emerge from a student’s particular passions and interests – that are consistent and well-structured, and that provide opportunity for reflection both individually and with peers and adults. We also recommend that students undertake at least a year of sustained service or community engagement. This service can take the form of substantial and sustained contributions to one’s family, such as working outside the home to provide needed income.”

2. Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
“The admissions process should clearly send the message to students, parents and other caregivers that not only community engagement and service, but also students’ family contributions, such as caring for younger siblings, taking on major household duties or working outside the home to provide needed income, are highly valued in the admissions process. Far too often there is a perception that high-profile, brief forms of service tend to count in admissions, while these far more consistent, demanding, and deeper family contributions are overlooked. Students should have clear opportunities to report these family contributions on their applications.”

3. Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.
“Admissions offices should send a clear message that numerous extracurricular activities or long “brag sheets” do not increase students’ chances of admission. Applications should state plainly that students should feel no pressure to report more than two or three substantive extracurricular activities and should discourage students from reporting activities that have not been meaningful to them. Admissions offices should convey to students that simply taking large numbers of AP or IB courses per year is often not as valuable as sustained achievement in a limited number of areas. Admissions offices should work to relieve undue pressure associated with admission tests (SAT and ACT). Options for reducing this pressure include: making these tests optional, clearly describing to applicants how much these tests actually “count” and how they are considered in the admissions process, and discouraging students from taking an admissions test more than twice.”

Finally, someone is on the right track! I would love to see all students reviewed in a holistic manner, considering their individual strengths and talents. 

What can you do today?  

Remind your teen that they matter.  Remind them of their strengths.  Remind them that they matter to you!  Help them realize their entire future is in front of them and that the place that they choose to get their education is just a stepping stone into their exciting future.  

Sherri Graf