By: Nikki Weiner, Private Prep College Admissions Coach
Stress, pressure, and anxiety are often three pillars of the college application process. So, how do we put systems in place to approach the process with more mindfulness? First, breathe. Inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to the count of 4. Repeat this a few times. What does your breath feel like rising and falling in your chest? Now, roll your shoulders forward and backward. Finally, roll your neck to the right and left. Parents reading from an office chair, I am looking at you. There you go—welcome to this moment!
Every student’s journey to college is unique. One thing to remember is that just because your child gets admitted into college does not mean they have the tools to manage the pressure once they get there. Now is a great time to put systems in place to help students deal with stress and anxiety, rather than waiting until college.
Anxiety is at the top of the list of problems that teens face today. A 2018 Pew Research survey of U.S. teens between the ages of 13 and 17 found that 96% of teens considered anxiety a problem in their peer group, making it the most widely reported issue in the study, ahead of issues such as bullying and drug addiction. What’s more, around 59% of teens have aspirations of attending college, and for many students, this pressure stems from their goal to attend college.¹
As a college admissions and executive functioning coach, I put mindfulness at the forefront of my students’ college admissions process. Through my years of supporting students—both in China and the U.S.—I have found varying degrees of stress to be present in nearly all of my high schoolers. It’s time to shift the cycle of stress our students continuously face. Since I personally struggle with debilitating anxiety, I can relate to my students. I use a variety of techniques every day to overcome and manage my anxiety, and I know that it is an ongoing struggle. As a result, I believe students benefit from having a mentor who provides a mindful approach to college applications. Ultimately, normalizing the conversation around anxiety in the college admissions landscape and acknowledging that it exists for many of us adults, too, is imperative to creating long-lasting shifts for our students.
Here are some of the concrete strategies I’ve found especially helpful in managing student anxiety:
Listing Daily WINS (Big and Small)
At the beginning of each meeting, I have my students list their WINS from the last week. These can be about school, social plans, personal goals, great meals—anything and everything. One of my all-time favorites was a student sharing that he had recently eaten an awesome hamburger (good for him!). In fact, I encourage my students to break away from relying on reporting only academic wins. This daily practice is accessible, as students can jot down their daily wins in a school notebook or evening journal.
Reframing Negative Self-Talk
If a student is feeling overwhelmed about an aspect of the college application process, I use a strategy called “Tic Toc Thoughts.” I first ask my students to write down any negative or distracting thoughts, or “tics,” they are facing. Once the student recognizes the “tic,” I guide them to reflect on what reframed thought, or “toc,” they can use to redirect their attention to a more positive, actionable approach. For instance, while writing essays, it’s common for students to have limiting beliefs around their writing ability. They might think, “The ideas I am writing don’t sound good and I can’t make them better.” This would be a “tic.” I guide students to replace that limiting belief with something like, “I am a high-level thinker, and I have written great essays in the past.” Reframing negative self-talk takes practice, but the results can be revolutionary!
Moving through the Discomfort:
Writing college essays can be intimidating. I am asking my students to trust that an idea will turn into a rough draft, which will, “voila,” evolve into a masterpiece. That’s overwhelming for anyone. To arrive at a final essay, students must physically move. When stress knocks at the door, it’s time to step away from the laptop. Take a short walk. Stand up and stretch. Throw around a tennis ball. Move through a sun salutation. Then, either return to writing or wait a day or two (or three—no judgment) to look at the essay with fresh eyes. Sound too simple? Nope—anxiety wants to keep us stuck. Movement is my best-kept secret. Have your child give it a try.
Meditation to Find Presence:
At last, we land on meditation. We’ve all heard of it. It’s become a hot topic everywhere, arguably sensationalized beyond the point of being useful. Many believe that meditation is about fully emptying the mind of thoughts, which is impossible. I tell my students that meditation is not about stopping thoughts; it’s about grounding, slowing down, and returning to the present moment, over and over—even if it’s just for a moment. Oftentimes, we put so much pressure on a future outcome—in this case, a college decision—that we lose sight of the present moment. As my students anxiously await college decisions, I ask them to make the revolutionary choice to focus on their inhales and exhales (if only for 60 seconds). Here are some easy apps that will guide them: Breethe, Calm, or Buddhify. ²
Those are a few mindfulness tools you can encourage your child to practice. Ultimately, this journey can be quite daunting for both parents and children. So, the next step is to grab a calendar, mark application deadlines, and practice whichever techniques resonate for you—alongside your child—every single day. Your groundedness will undoubtedly provide a healthier environment for your child to thrive in during this process and beyond. A final thing to consider as you move forward: Your child’s ultimate contribution and value in this world is not contingent on a school’s decision.
To learn more about bringing mindfulness into the college admissions process and how Private Prep can support you in this journey, please contact us.
² I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the apps I list.