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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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How to Deal With College Admissions Anxiety

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We don’t need to tell you that it’s common for students to experience anxiety during the college application process. There’s a lot to do, the stakes are high, the deadlines are strict, and you’re being asked to make major decisions about your future. It would be stranger for you to not be stressed out during this time.


However, just because admissions anxiety is normal doesn’t mean you just have to deal with it without any help. There are a number of different things you can do to help mitigate the physical, mental, and emotional consequences of admissions anxiety and preserve your well-being during this tough time. A little self-care can free you up to more effectively complete college admissions tasks—and even enjoy your senior year of high school along the way.


Here, you’ll find CollegeVine’s best advice for dealing with the anxiety of applying to college. Use these tips to help keep yourself healthy as you work on your educational future.



Manage Your Admissions Expectations


The thing about applying to competitive colleges is that admission is, well, competitive. Chances are, you won’t get accepted to all the colleges on your list, potentially including the schools you most wanted to attend.


Rejection is a fact of life in the college application process, even if you’re an exceptionally strong applicant—top schools attract many more qualified applicants than they can actually admit. You can’t eradicate the possibility of rejection, but you can anticipate it and come to terms with it in advance, and that can help head off some of your anxiety about applying to college.


In the early stages of the college planning process, it’s also important that you take an honest look at yourself, from your strengths and weaknesses to your educational and career plans and needs. The colleges you like most may not be schools that are likely to admit you. It’s fine to apply to a few long-shot dream schools, but it’s wise not to pin your hopes and plans too firmly on a school where you’re unlikely to be admitted.


Applying to an appropriate range of colleges ensures that even if Plan A doesn’t work out, you still have an exciting Plan B to fall back upon. Not getting too attached to one dream school above all others leaves you with less potential to be crushingly disappointed if you’re not accepted. Most importantly, assessing yourself and where you stand as an applicant will help you to develop reasonable, realistic expectations for the admissions process.



Be Open to Accepting Help


There’s no shame in admitting that admission season is stressful; most applicants share that feeling to a greater or lesser extent. There’s also no question that this stress can have a negative impact upon your well-being. Combating these negative effects of stress can seem like a daunting task, but it’s important to realize that you don’t have to go it alone. Everyone deserves and can use some help in managing stress and anxiety, even if you feel like others need it more or have it worse.


The first step in getting the help you need is admitting that you need it. Everyone needs other people sometimes, and having a strong support structure is immensely important when you’re going through any major changes in life. There are people and resources out there who are willing and even eager to help you in ways both practical and personal, directly and indirectly reducing the strain as you navigate college application season.


Every applicant has access to a different set of resources, which might include family members, teachers, guidance counselors, admissions consultants, tutors, mentors, friends, and many others. Whatever options you have, there’s no benefit to stubbornly refusing to take advantage of them. Accepting help isn’t a sign of weakness or a negative thing—it’s admitting you’re human, and making full use of the resources available to you.

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Make Use of Family Support


One major source of support for many students is their families. No matter what your family looks like, it’s most likely made up of people who care about you very much, have been invested in your life for a long time, and know you better than almost anyone. Their assistance, both with practical tasks and with managing the emotional burden of application anxiety, can be an invaluable resource.


Balancing your growing independence with your family’s care and intervention can be complicated during this time in your life; while you may see yourself as an adult, or close to it, your family may still think of you as a child. In reality, you’re somewhere in the middle, and you can still benefit a great deal from your family’s care. Don’t let your desire for independence cut you off from the help your family can provide.


Of course, dealing with family isn’t always easy for everyone, and sometimes familial relationships are complicated or strained. If this is the case for you, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. However, if you do have some family members who are able and willing to help, their support can be extremely helpful.



Seek Support Outside Your Family Too


Whether or not your family proves to be a useful resource when it comes to managing your admissions anxiety, there are other resources out there too. As a high school student, participant in extracurriculars, and member of various communities, you have connections that you can leverage to help build up your support system.


Guidance counselors, who are trained to help you manage educational and emotional issues, can be a fantastic resource, though their availability may be limited—they often have heavy workloads. However, they’re not the only people who can help you, and the options available to you run the gamut from professional counselors and advisors, to youth group leaders and activity coordinators, and even to older students with recent experience going through the college application process.


Honestly, you never know where you’ll find relationships that will bolster your emotional health, give you outlets and people to talk to, and help you take care of yourself while you’re under stress. Be open to seeking and accepting help from a wide range of people, as long as they’re affecting you in positive and constructive ways.



Take Care of Your Physical Health


Anxiety can significantly affect your physical health. Many people find that emotional stress and worry go hand-in-hand with physical symptoms like trouble sleeping, headaches, or an upset stomach, making the whole experience even more unpleasant. (It can be hard enough to focus on the work you need to do without a headache!)


The reverse is also true. Just as anxiety can cause physical problems, taking better care of yourself physically can help you to manage your anxiety. Getting enough sleep can help you maintain your emotional equilibrium, for example, and some people find that regular exercise helps them to stay grounded and “burn off” anxious energy.


Sleeping well, eating healthfully, getting some physical activity, and taking time to rest and recuperate really do help, sometimes substantially. You don’t have to make dramatic changes or change every habit at once, either; even small improvements are steps in the right direction. Only you can say for sure what works best for your particular anxieties, but keeping an eye on your physical health certainly can’t hurt.



Don’t Compare Yourself to Friends and Classmates


Every college applicant is unique, and so many different factors go into a college’s admissions decision that it’s nearly impossible to meaningfully compare yourself to another person. Even if another student seems very similar to you, the reality is that you aren’t privy to the details of their application, nor did you sit in on the deliberations of the admissions committee. You just don’t know enough to make an informed comparison.


Beyond the reality of your limited perspective, sometimes, chance does play a role in college admissions. There are just so many qualified applicants out there, swamping admissions offices with accolade-packed applications, that top colleges couldn’t accept them all even if they wanted to. Sometimes you’re the lucky one, sometimes you’re the unlucky one.


Don’t worry about what might have been, and don’t succumb to the temptation to over-analyze how your application compares to those of others. It won’t change anything, particularly after the fact; it’ll only increase your anxiety level. Obsessing over the idea that you deserve to get into a particular school more than some other specific person does is never productive or healthy.


Instead, focus on doing what’s best for you, finding a college that’s a solid personal fit, and making the best of whatever circumstances you find yourself in. Set goals that are appropriate for you, work hard in a way that’s healthy and suitable for you, and don’t waste your precious time, energy, and well-being on comparing yourself to others.



Remember That Prestige Isn’t Everything


There are definitely benefits to attending a top-tier college. If you get into a school that’s well-known and highly regarded, you’ll likely get some extraordinary opportunities to access vast resources, cutting-edge research, and faculty who are at the top of their field. Having a prestigious name on your resume doesn’t hurt either.


However, just because a college has many exciting features and a high public profile doesn’t mean that it’s actually the right place for you, and the extra anxiety that comes with trying to get admitted to a big-name school may not ultimately be productive in your particular case. You’ll be better off focusing on finding a college that’s a great overall fit for your needs—a place where you can really thrive and blossom—than just trying to get into the best-known school that will accept you.


Every college is different, and their differences can’t entirely be expressed in popular acclaim or rankings. Every college offers different opportunities and takes a different approach to educating its students. There are so many incredible experiences out there to explore, and the best-known colleges don’t have a monopoly on providing you with an excellent educational experience.


When it comes to choosing a college, look deeper than the name. Prioritize finding a school that will truly match, support, and inspire you over the next four years. Don’t add to your own anxiety by focusing too closely on a small group of famous colleges, and definitely don’t worry too much about whether you’re impressing others.



Learning More


For personal stories, comic relief, and more advice for keeping yourself healthy and sane while you navigate the whirlwind of college admissions, check out our sister blog, CollegeVine Zen.


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.