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Stress over college applications | On College

Question: My daughter, who is a junior, is an emotional wreck because of looming college applications. Is this typical?

Answer: You are not alone as you describe the stress that many of our students are experiencing. In my practice, I see many students, particularly juniors, who are forfeiting sleep and their mental health in order to take four or more AP classes on top of a full plate of extracurricular activities. Having just viewed “The Road to Nowhere,” I am reminded once again that the pressure to succeed at all costs is a national phenomenon that is taking its toll on our students. I fear the backlash as parents feel the need to apply more pressure for their sons and daughters to excel after reading “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” The author implies that Western parents are too relaxed, leaving their offspring ill-equipped to complete in today’s global economy. Even the New York Times, last month, reported on a survey that describes the emotional health of college freshmen, especially girls, being the lowest reported for the past 25 years.

Both parents and educators need to emphasize early on the fact that there are literally hundreds of good colleges for our students to attend, without focusing on the handful of “elite schools” where most students will not gain acceptance. Studies have repeatedly shown that it is the intellectual skills and attitudes about learning that are paramount to success as opposed to the college itself that one attends. Students need to be encouraged to look at schools that are not the same 20 that their peers are applying to, and to look beyond the college rankings, which are oversimplified and misleading.

While it is tempting to succumb to the mentality that more is better when it comes to the college application strategy, the opposite often holds true. Colleges want to see a student who has devoted him or herself to a handful of activities if they have done them with energy and enthusiasm in order to make an impact on either their school or their community.

I have the benefit of knowing how happy students generally are with the schools they attend, even if those were not the schools where they had envisioned themselves early on in the process. Students need our support to remind them that they are more than their GPA and test scores, and to help them remain positive about their last few years of high school if they are putting forth their personal best and remaining true to themselves along the journey.

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