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7 Ways to Fight College Application Stress

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Got a case of application stress? Feel pressured to ace tests, write brilliant essays, and create perfect apps? Worried about getting in? Here's help.

Every year, high school seniors run the gauntlet of applying to college — and survive. But when you're in the middle of it, it is tough to gain perspective. Rest assured that many, many students have been in your predicament. Those students, and the counselors that helped them, have passed along the following tips to help keep your fears at bay.

How to Relax While Applying to College

The natural reaction to stress is to flee what's causing it. But the solution is to accept that things are tough, take time to calm down, and then take steps to stay on task. Knowing you have got it all covered is the best remedy for application anxiety. Here are some strategies.

1. Breathe. Seriously, simply sitting still and breathing deeply helps panic subside. Check out this free mindful breathing exercise.

2. Organize your apps. Many students report this is the best way to stop worrying about your applications. Make a list of all deadlines and requirements, and then a timeline for getting it all done. For more organizational tips, see How to Stay Organized and Complete Your College Apps on Time.

3. Reduce essay stress by telling your story. Not knowing what to write in your essays is a huge panic trigger. Look at the essay prompts and take lots of time to think about how your personal experiences might relate to them. Your essay might practically write itself. Need help getting started? See 6 Steps to Start Your College Essay.

4. Apply to a college you like that will probably admit you. This way, you'll know you have a college to attend. To find colleges that might be good bets for admission based on your grades and other factors, use CollegeData's College Chances tool.

5. Take advantage of test-optional policies. If you are concerned about your test scores, more than 1,800 four-year colleges are now test optional, test blind, or test flexible. At test optional and test flexible schools, you can choose whether or not you want to submit your SAT or ACT scores. Test blind colleges don't consider test scores at all in their admissions decisions. Visit for a list of test-optional and test-blind schools.

6. Ask an adult to proof and review your applications so you are confident there are no mistakes or omissions. 

7. Stop to take care of yourself. If working on your apps is stressing you out, take a break and do something that reduces anxiety. According to the National Institutes of Health, going outdoors, getting more sleep, doing activities you enjoy, exercising for 30 minutes, journaling, and seeing friends all alleviate stress. 


How to Weather the Tension While Waiting for Decisions

  • Dive into your senior year. Participate in any senior activities that are available and interest you. Spend time with your close friends. Chances are, you will be seeing and communicating with them less often once you start college. And of course, keep up your grades.
  • Get excited about your upcoming college life, regardless of where you get in. Talk to college students about what college is like. If you plan to live on campus, think about what you would like to put in your dorm room.
  • Find out more about the colleges lower down on your list. Rejections are a natural outcome of applying, and getting excited about options besides your top choices will ease your anxiety about those potential denials.

Feeling some stress when you're applying to college is normal -- and for some students, stress can be a motivating factor in completing their applications. However, if you feel overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, or depression, it's important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional and to talk with a parent, guardian, or other adult you trust.  There are many ways to manage and alleviate stress--and you don't have to fight it alone.

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