3 Tips for Reducing Student Stress & Anxiety During the Admission Process

Written by Yolanda Coleman

In partnership with adolescent mental health provider Joon, Appily surveyed 6,330 high school students about the impact of mental health on their college process. Forty-eight percent (48%) reported feeling stressed and anxious during the college search and decision process. Even more concerning, almost 60% of students feel they aren’t receiving adequate support for their mental health.

Between mid-February and late March, seniors receive the final admissions decisions from their schools. In addition to awaiting regular decision results, they’re also waiting to learn their fates from the schools that deferred or waitlisted them earlier in the process. As a former college counselor, I remember tensions running high during this time, and that was without the repeated FAFSA delays we’ve experienced this year.

If you’re anything like I was as a counselor, you’re always looking for ways to best support your students. Below are three strategies to help your seniors manage stress and anxiety as we approach college decision day.

Embrace the power of community.

One in seven students surveyed said they have no one to talk to about their mental health. Nadirah Habeebullah, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Missouri, says peer support groups are an excellent way to combat these feelings of isolation.

“It’s easy for young people to think it’s just them, that they’re the only one feeling or thinking that way or that they’re the only one this happened to.” Being in a community with similar student shows them those things aren’t true. If students can connect with other first-generation college students or other LGBTQ+ students or other students with learning differences, they’ll be more likely to open up because they’ll be more comfortable.”

Shamelle Yemofio, Director of Counseling at Bishop McNamara High School in Washington, DC, is already putting this idea into practice. Her students complete a biannual wellness survey. In addition to using the surveys to identify who may need one-on-one support, she also uses the results to create focus groups of six to eight students based on certain topic areas.

“One of my goals is to help students see that they have a community in each other and that it’s okay to process how they’re feeling mentally and emotionally.” She’s found the groups to be particularly impactful for high-achieving students.

“Students are very insular, and some of them don’t want to share, especially those at the top of the class. They don’t want people to know they got rejected or that they were stressed out and submitted something at the last minute. Sometimes it can be freeing to have a safe space.”

Be proactive.

Yemofio knows that if her team can anticipate parents’ questions and preemptively answer them, it cuts down on misinformation and lowers anxiety levels for everyone. This has been especially true with the recent FAFSA delays.

“Students often take on the stress of their parents, so we’ve tried to mitigate this by proactively reaching out to parents as the FAFSA timeline has changed.”

Timely programming has also been an effective tool for managing anxiety. Yemofio’s office implemented “More Money Mondays” to give families a dedicated time and place to get help with their financial aid and scholarship concerns.

“We’ve provided insights on how to complete their financial aid forms, and we’ve helped students call [the Federal Student Aid Information Center] to get help answering specific questions on the FAFSA.” Yemofio has also used Wyatt: the Free FAFSA Chatbot for Students as a resource for her families during these uncertain times.

Focus on the journey, not the destination.

In “Stop Making Viral College-Acceptance Videos,” Zach Gottlieb urged his peers and their parents to stop posting videos capturing the moment when students open their admission decisions and see that they’ve been admitted. Gottlieb created the virtual Gen Z wellness community, Talk With Zach, in 2021 when he was just 15.

In his article, he explains that while the videos seem harmless and may even be inspiring for some, they magnify the college anxiety and stress students are already experiencing.

Habeebullah agrees. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to share your happiness and capture that moment, but such videos only focus on the outcome, on something students can’t control. We have to recognize that for every one of those videos that gets uploaded, there are ten that have to be deleted because the student didn’t get in. That’s why it’s important to applaud the journey that gets

I condensed this part - but I didn’t actually see the stats about not receiving mental health support in the paper? Were those in the raw data?

Yes, those stats were in the raw data from Joon, but I think it's fine to condense since it's not in the insight paper. 

When creating such groups, Habeebullah encourages having an adult facilitate but cautions counselors not to view this as another responsibility they have to take on. “Tap into your school network. There are likely teachers, coaches, advisors, and other administrators who can relate to the theme or focus of the groups.” 

I did this by mailing each of my students a handwritten postcard after they submitted their first application. We know how much time and effort students put into this process, so I wanted my students to know that it was worth celebrating, regardless of the outcome. 

postcard

Access even more insights in EAB’s K-12 Student Mental Health and Wellness Resource Center.*

 

 

*EAB, Appily’s parent company, partners with more than 2,600 institutions serving students from kindergarten through college to provide comprehensive thought leadership in areas such as access and equity, enrollment, and student success.