Tips for Handling College Application Stress

By Lisa Lewis

Where are you applying?” 

“Have you gotten in anywhere yet?” 

“I got into my first-choice school! How about you?”

There’s no denying it: The process of applying to college and determining where you’ll attend is time-consuming and can be extremely stressful. Lots of people want to share their opinions or questions—and it’s often what the adults in your life want to talk about most. 

Even if people mean well, their input may make you feel even more worried or anxious. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you navigate the college application process.

Don’t Get Caught Up in Comparisons

There are about 4,000 colleges in the United States. Although some may have higher name recognition or be harder to get into, that doesn’t mean they’re the best fit for you. 

Lead with your preferences and goals when considering where to apply. It can help to make a list of schools you’re interested in and why you might want to go there.

Be Realistic

If you include schools that range in competitiveness, you will likely get into some of them, but most likely, you won’t get into all of them. It could be helpful to divide schools into different categories, like those you anticipate getting into and “stretch schools” that are a bit more competitive. 

Recognize What You Can Control—and What You Can’t

When it comes to college applications, there’s only so much you can control. You can make the process easier on yourself by focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t. 

For example, you can’t control application deadlines or admissions decisions. But you can control your grades, the effort you put into applications, and your response to application stress, among other things. Shifting your mindset to what is in your hands may help you stay more positive.

Get Outside Guidance

Your school may offer college counseling services to help you decide which colleges to apply to and prepare your applications. There are also private counselors you can hire if that’s within your family’s budget. If the schools you’re applying to require you to take the SAT or ACT, you can sign up for a course to help you prepare. There are also low-cost and even free test prep resources available online, including the College Board and Magoosh

Prepare for Difficult Conversations

During this time, the people in your life will probably be interested in your college application process—like, really interested. They might ask questions or give advice that increases your anxiety or stress levels. Get ahead of these conversations by having a few general answers at the ready. Maybe you simply share your top two or three schools, or let them know where you’re at in the application process.

You can also have some other phrases prepared to change the direction of the conversation. You might say something like, “I’m working on my application essay right now. I appreciate your interest, but I’d love to talk about [blank] instead,” or “I’d love for tonight to be a break from thinking about all that, but thank you for asking!”

Although you might not look forward to these conversations, it may help to remember that your family members or friends are likely trying to show they are interested, care, and want you to succeed.

Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health

When you’re stressed, it’s especially important to focus on the basics of staying healthy. This includes getting eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, moving your body, and doing things that bring you joy. Figure out ways to move through the stress of this time in a way that feels supportive to you. Some options: journaling, meditating, hanging out with a good friend, reaching out to a grandparent, talking with a therapist, or simply taking time to do nothing.

Find other ideas and videos to help you take care of yourself during stressful times

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.