How Educators Can Support High School Students During College Application Season
By Lauren Patetta
College application season can be an exciting time for both students and educators. It’s rewarding to see students you’ve taught and mentored taking a step toward the next phase of their lives. Between doing research, visiting schools, taking entrance exams, and working on the applications themselves, however, your students may be stressed — and that can affect the culture in your classroom or school.
Your students are likely grappling with many sources of stress. High school students juggle school work, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and responsibilities related to family, friends, and other important relationships. The application process adds another layer of stress, and you may notice that some of your students are not coping well. They may be showing up to class, practice, or your office feeling tired and disengaged.
If you notice any mental health warning signs that indicate a student’s stress is becoming too much, such as missing school, missing deadlines when they’re usually on top of them, or acting out, it’s important to connect them to mental health support right away.
Whether you are a teacher, coach, guidance counselor, or other staff member, you can play a meaningful role in supporting students during this crucial time.
Below are some ideas for how you can show up for them and help them manage stress during the college application process.
Offer Opportunities to Rest and Practice Self-Care
While working on college and scholarship applications, some students may struggle to make time for everything on their plate. If you’re looking to offer some additional support during this time, you can:
- Adjust assignment deadlines. Regular-decision college applications are typically due in January or February. When building out deadlines for the year, consider scheduling larger projects before or after that time.
- Offer students help with time, task, and stress management. Some students may need more time or guidance to get assignments done during application season. Consider offering deadline extensions or providing extra-credit opportunities. It could also be helpful to offer extra opportunities to check in with small study groups or “just talk” hours after class or practice.
- Make self-help and self-care resources visible. Consider including them on your whiteboard or in a syllabus. You can also suggest self-care strategies, such as practicing mindfulness and prioritizing sleep, if students come to you feeling stressed out.
- Provide students time to work. Give students dedicated time during class to complete assignments. That could help them better manage their time and ease the burden of take-home work.
- Listen and offer nonjudgmental advice. Students are dealing with many different expectations from the people in their lives. If they come to you to vent or ask for advice, remember that teens typically just want you to listen and to feel understood. You have the capacity to do so. If you want to know more, ask them open-ended questions and remind them you are here for them.
Recognize the Full Person
High school seniors are constantly faced with messages about college. It’s probably the first thing friends and family members ask about, the topic many of their teachers and counselors are pushing, and the thing that is always on their minds. It’s important to remind students that they’re more than what college they attend.
Educators can do that by:
- Asking students about their other interests, accomplishments, or activities
- Encouraging students to keep pursuing their hobbies and the things that bring them joy unrelated to school or college applications
- Putting things into perspective by reminding them college does not define them as a person
Normalize Paths Outside of College
With so much talk about college, students who are planning to join the military, take a gap year, go straight into the workforce, or not attend college at all may feel they are not being validated or supported.
You can show up for those students by normalizing all the different paths a high school senior can take after graduation once they graduate.
- Talk openly about the other options available to students. Let everyone know college isn’t the only path open to them and that it doesn’t need to happen right away.
- Share positive stories about past students who successfully took a gap year, attended a two-year college or trade school, went straight into the workforce, or took another path to pursue a dream or special interest.
- Invite career or counseling center staff into your classroom to discuss the different paths students can take after high school.