What To Do When Stress & Anxiety Over College Applications Reach A Fever Pitch

Stressed Teen Holding His Head in His Hands while Staring at the Computer

What To Do When Stress & Anxiety Over College Applications Reach A Fever Pitch

Published November 9, 2023

Stressed Teen Holding His Head in His Hands while Staring at the Computer

I’ve got a high school senior and if your house is anything like mine, you are in the throes of college application season. It’s an exciting time filled with possibilities, but it doesn’t always feel that way. 

Filling out myriad applications, navigating the Common App website, tracking down transcripts, requesting teacher recommendations, and anxious thoughts such as What if I don’t get into my top choice? can stress everybody out. Even our dogs seem anxious some days when we discuss our progress on applications (or the lack thereof).

Stress and anxiety during the college application process can be overwhelming for both parents and students. The following are five tips for parents to help manage the stress and anxiety that can accompany college applications. 

Practice Mindful Breathing Together

Not to get all “woo-woo” on you, but I’m a big believer in taking a moment to take deep breaths when I’m stressed. I often tell my son to take three of them when he starts getting heated about something. Tons of research shows it can help ease stress when you’re right in the thick of it, and while it won’t take it away completely, the short pause allows you time to consider whether you might be going too hard when it comes to college application season. It’s easy to find yourself triggered, whether it’s by your child’s lackadaisical approach, their intensity, or a stranger’s comment on social media that makes it seem like their family has college applications totally under control. 

Encourage your child to engage in mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing or meditation, to manage stress. Join them in this practice when you can so they can see that you practice what you preach. You can both participate in short, calming sessions together, fostering a sense of connection and relaxation during this hectic period.

Create a “College Vision Board”

I’m a huge fan of vision boards. I completed my first during a women’s retreat several years ago, and I’ve often relied on them to give me direction and help me hone in on what’s important to me. 

Collaborating with your child to create a visual representation of their college goals is a fun way to feel like you’re moving forward in the process. Use a corkboard, poster, or digital platform to collect images, quotes, and symbols that represent their dreams and aspirations. This creative project can serve as a motivating reminder of their long-term objectives and reduce anxiety about the application process.

Take Breaks for Fun Activities

Try dedicating time to fun and stress-relieving daily activities as a family. Sometimes I forget that the key is to enjoy these moments without talking about stressful subjects, but when I leave those off the table, I notice everyone feels more connected and less stressed. 

Plan outings or activities that have nothing to do with college applications. Whether it’s a movie night, a day at the park, or a themed cooking night, these breaks can help everyone recharge and bond.

Write “Worry Letters” Together

I’m a big fan of journaling, but if that word makes you cringe, call it something else — a worry letter, perhaps? Encouraging your child to express their fears and anxieties through writing is a safe way for them to process their emotions without getting overly anxious or caught up in sticky or contentious conversations with you. Tell them to write a “worry letter” that they don’t have to show anyone unless they want to. Offer to write one too, with your worries and concerns. It can be a therapeutic and bonding experience.

Reach Out to Supportive Communities

Connecting with other parents who are going through the same experience can be a godsend. Just be careful which groups you join. It should feel supportive, not competitive, and if you find yourself feeling anxious about where other families seem to be in the process vs where you are, it may not be the right one for you. 

Road2College has a great, supportive Facebook Group called Paying for College 101 that talks about everything related to college, not just the financial part. It’s actively monitored so any inappropriate comments are immediately removed. 

Whatever forum, social media group, or local support network you choose, even if it’s just a group of friends who are in the same stage, sharing experiences and advice with others can provide a sense of camaraderie and valuable insights.

By working together to manage stress and anxiety, you can make the college application process a more manageable and positive experience for your child and your whole family — pets included!


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

High School Is Stressful: A Mom Expresses Concern, and Our Community Responds

The Common Black Application Lowers Costs and Stress

10 Talks to Have with Your High School Student to Help Manage Their Stress




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