Signs of College Admissions Stress and How to Help

College Admissions Stress

Signs of College Admissions Stress and How to Help

Published October 25, 2018

College Admissions Stress

Laura’s daughter, a senior in a magnet program at a suburban public high school, is struggling far more with the college application process than her two older siblings did.

This concerns Laura, who is worried what the effects of this type of stress might be on her daughter and other students like her.

Laura wonders “if perhaps she feels pressure based on their experiences” (the older sibs both attend very selective universities.)

This fall Laura’s daughter “is definitely complaining of more physicalcomplaints, including headaches, stomach aches and feeling tired.”

Some days Laura allows her daughter “to go in late to school…because I don’t want to stress her further and I want her to get more sleep.”

If you are a parent of a high school senior in the middle of college admissions application season, the signs of stress Laura sees in her daughter may sound familiar to you – or perhaps not.

Is College Admission Too Competitive?

Not all high school seniors experience stress during this period, but many do.

Parents may see mild to severe signs of physical stress such as the ones Laura is noticing and/or signs of emotional, cognitive or behavioralstress.

Signs of emotional stress are common in high school seniors.

Diane’s son attends a public high school in the city; she said her son “became a little withdrawn in the thick of the season of college applications, visits, plus heavy loads of school work.” She noticed that he was also “more irritable than usual.”

Rebecca’s daughter goes to a suburban public high school and applied early decision last fall to the same top university attended by her older brothers.

The night the ED application was due, her daughter “shut down” and said she couldn’t finish her application because she was “absolutely exhausted.”

Two years earlier Rebecca’s son also waited until nearly the last minute to get his early application in, telling his mom he “had to go play basketball…and was gone for hours. “Pretty sure he was running away from the stress”, says Rebecca.

Nina’s son’s stress showed up in cognitive ways.

In the fall of his senior year at his small, competitive private school, he exhibited higher than usual levels of anxiety, had serious insomnia and a lack of focus.

Nina believes “it wasn’t a coincidence that he experienced his first panic attack” in the last two weeks of October, just before the November 1 early decision deadline of his first-choice college.

Nicole’s son, a senior in a large suburban high school, stayed out later than usual, likely “drinking more with his friends,” Nicole thinks in the fall of the college application season.

He was “so stressed that he did not want us involved because that increased the stress.”

Lucky for Natalie, her four kids, all of whom went to a suburban high school, showed little signs of stress, other than some fleeting irritation and procrastination.

Her youngest son, now a college sophomore, was “probably the most motivated of the bunch” because he “had witnessed his older siblings go off to college and survive.”

How Do You Deal With College Admissions Stress?

Nina promptly set up a therapist appointment for her son.

The family together with their son’s high school college counselor agreed that he should put off applying in the early decision round to lessen the stress (in retrospect, Nina thinks, perhaps not the wisest stress-reduction strategy.)

Laura has offered her daughter a chance to see a therapist, but her daughter said no.

Laura has tried to reassure her daughter – “truthful but I know it feels empty to her – that almost all students of her caliber end up at a school where they flourish.”

Diane says her son’s stress levels have declined now that “he has made some choices and a good chunk of his applications” are done.

When application season began, Diane helped her son who she says needs “structure and advice on how to get started” by setting up weekly calendars with to-do items broken into manageable “blocks of time.”

Diane also encouraged her son to “take breaks, call his brothers or go for a run.”

Looking back to earlier this fall, Diane admits that she and her husband put off “a lot of their college visits, and it was not fun or productive squeezing in too many visits in a month.”

Nicole, seeing her son procrastinate, stay out late and grow quieter around his parents, tried to get more involved in her son’s application process, but that “angered him and ultimately he just kept saying “I got this” – when he didn’t.

[Helping vs. Helicoptering: Parents and the College Admissions Process]

Her son was not accepted last year to his first-choice school, but now is a very happy freshman at a large university out of state.

[Be Open To Your 2nd and 3rd Choice Colleges]

Nicole still wonders, in retrospect, if she should have hired an outside consultant to guide her son through the process.

When to Take Steps to Help With the Stress

Some parents react to signs of stress in their high school seniors by jumping in to get more involved – or trying to. Others see the stress and know that backing off is what is needed.

[Need a Mental Health Day? Some Schools Give Students the Option]

If the stress level is manageable, the impact on the family minimal and, most important, the student generally healthy, physically and emotionally, parents can choose the approach that works for their family.

But parents who see their son or daughter’s stress manifest itself in serious and/or life-threatening ways cannot hesitate to get expert right away.

If you hear talk about or threats of suicide, see evidence of self-harm, notice significant changes in appetite, weight loss or weight gain, signs of misuse of prescription meds, illegal drugs or alcohol abuse – these are all signs of stress that cannot be ignored, in the hope that they will go away once the admission season ends.

Expert help is needed and as soon as possible.





*Quotes in the article were taken from real parents who asked not to have their real names used. Instead, we changed their names for the article, using the real first initial of their names, to protect their privacy.

In this article:

Upcoming Events

Similar Articles for You

Comprehensive Guide to Co-Op Colleges: Where Education Meets Practical Experience

11th Graders

Comprehensive Guide to Co-Op Colleges: Where Education Meets Practical Experience

While work-study or your garden variety part-time job are some of the most traditional ways to make money in college,...

How Much Student Loan is Too Much? Unveiling the Answers & Strategies for 2023


How Much Student Loan is Too Much? Unveiling the Answers & Strategies for 2023

If you have a student planning for college, you’re probably aware of the current student loan crisis and the ramifications...

Wait Listed or Deferred? Your Guide on What to Do Next


Wait Listed or Deferred? Your Guide on What to Do Next

If your top college has “wait listed” or “deferred” your college application, what should you do next? This guide will...

Tools & Services Recommended for You

There may come a time when you realize you can’t do it all alone. Use any of the many tools in our toolbox to assist you on the road to college.

Become a Member

At Road2College you’ll find everything you need to make the admissions and paying for college process less stressful and more transparent.


Explore College Insights™ — your source for finding affordable colleges and merit scholarships.


Get coaching on admissions and college financing.


Join Road2College where parents and experts work together to inform and inspire college-bound families.