Taking the Angst Out of the College Search

By Fern Weis, Founder of Your Family Matters

Today, it seems that the push for the college search is on at younger and younger ages, and we’re paying the price, parents and kids alike.  How do you cope with the madness? How do you help your student get through it? Let’s begin with a look at the stress around college, some warning signs of stress overload, and the role that parents play along the way.

Why does stress increase during the college prep process?
 For starters, the ‘college process’ goes on for years, with agony over course selection, grades, SATS, applications, volunteer and extracurricular activities.  This is a long, drawn-out process, with lots of waiting.  Life revolves around college for more years than it should.

·         With all of this pressure, teens feel that today’s choices are “forever” choices. “What if I choose wrong?  What if I make a mistake?”

·         There is the stress of maintaining and improving grades and taking Honors, and/or AP classes.

·         SAT/ACT and all of the test prep for them are one of the biggest stressors.

·         And of course, the pressure of getting into the ‘best’ college continues throughout.

How do teens respond to normal stress and stress overload?

·         Typically, stress overload shows up in their moods (in both boys and girls). Your teen can be impatient, irritable, sad, anxious and overwhelmed.

·         Physical symptoms may include stomach/headaches, changes in eating, sleeping and hygiene.

·         More dangerous responses can be self-abuse including eating disorders or cutting, drug use and alcohol. Teens become secretive because they don’t know any other way to cope.

How do parents add to the stress during college prep?

·         Despite best intentions, love and concern, parents add to the pressure.  You may be micromanaging around grades, homework and extracurriculars.

·         Parents nag about studying, prepping for the SAT/ACT, completing applications, and may compare their kids to others.

·         You may be complaining (loudly worrying) about the pressures of financing the college education.

Start paying attention to behavior changes that may indicate stress overload.  Take a look at your own behaviors and responses when the subject of college comes up.  There are always opportunities to take the angst out of the apps.

How can parents help teens during the process and while waiting for acceptances?

·         Be a great listener.  Acknowledge your child's feelings without judgment (I hear how frustrated/anxious/worried you are).

·         In a calm moment, ask how you can help (with the process, or to support them).

·         Be the voice of reason.  There is no perfect college.  He’ll survive the process.  Remind her of past successes.

What are some ways for students to de-stress during senior year?

·         Learn something new (cooking, art, music), build something, play in the snow/sand, help someone else.

·         Mindset – Share what you’re thinking and feeling.  Learn to ask for help.  View problems as temporary and solvable.

·         Physical – Get some sleep!  Relax (read, hot shower, dance, sing, play with pets, yoga, meditation, exercise).

What are some ways parents can deal with their own stress around the college search?

·         Your teen picks up, and feeds off of your anxiety.  Do your own de-stressing and be there to support your teen.

·         You can’t eliminate their stress.  It may be unpleasant, but they will survive the college process and possible disappointment… and so will you.

·         Follow the same advice you’d give them!  Focus on what you can control and get busy with the rest of your life.

Fern Weis is a Parenting Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach.  She works with parents of tweens, teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery.  Through coaching and workshops, Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life’s challenges.  www.yourfamilymatterscoach.com         www.familyrecoverypartners.com