How to Manage the Stress of the Online College Application Process
The college admissions process can be stressful. This is just as true for students who are applying to online college as for those who plan to attend college on campus in the fall. Wherever you plan to go, you have a lot to get done. You have to pick the perfect school, fill out your FAFSA, write a killer essay, and hit your application submission deadlines. And it probably does not help that everything you have done in your educational career up until now HAS BEEN LEADING UP TO THIS VERY MOMENT!
There is a ton of pressure, whether you are graduating close to the top of your class or you are just looking for a college degree that can further your career. After all, there is a lot riding on this decision.
If you are just getting started, the first step is to make a list of schools. You can do this by using our College Strategist Tool, which can help you identify the best Target, Reach and Safety schools for your needs.
Otherwise, read on for these important tips on how to manage the inevitable stress of the online college application process.
Be Realistic About Your Target Schools
Avoid imposing unrealistic expectations on yourself. While the value of attending a top 50 college or university is clear, the cost and competition are equally clear. Simply stated—only a select few students each year will have the opportunity to earn a degree from an elite school.
But here is the good news. You do not need a degree from an Ivy League college to excel in your career. Ivy League schools may be harder than ever to get into, but the options for an accessible, affordable, and excellent undergraduate education are also more plentiful than ever.
One of the best ways to lower your stress level when applying for colleges is to be realistic about where you have the best chance not just to gain admission, but to excel as a student and reach your personal goals. Your path to success does not have to pass through an Ivy League school.
We have a great list of college search tools for you. These online resources is designed to refine, improve and ease your college selection process.
According to a recent study from the Princeton Review, college applicants are actually more stressed about how to pay for college than how to get into the school of their choice. University Business reports that
A robust 98% of the more than 14,000 participants said they will need financial loans to be able to afford college, including 82% who said it is ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ necessary. The majority (41%) cited their greatest worry as ‘level of debt to pay for the degree.’
Americans hold more than $1.74 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. This suggests that today’s college applicant is right to be concerned. While you cannot control the spiraling cost of college, you can control the type of college you choose to attend. For instance, did you know that you can still get an in-state discount for attending an online public school in your state? That is just the tip of the iceberg. Find others ways to save on your online education without sacrificing quality. Evidence suggests that the amount of stress you will spare yourself is priceless.
Consider a Test-Optional College
In the wake of COVID-19, more prestigious colleges and universities than ever before are embracing a test-optional approach to admissions. This means that SAT and ACT scores may no longer be necessary to apply to a top school. Granted, if you have amazing test scores, you will want to submit them regardless.
But if, by contrast, you have excellent grades, standout extra-curricular activities and a bad case of test-taker’s anxiety, targeting test-optional schools could be a great way to lower your stress levels. And here is the thing...there’s no telling how long some of these schools will stay this way. This is a temporary policy adjustment for many of the top schools. It is not clear if and when these schools might revert to a mandatory testing policy. Take advantage now and you could be spared the stress of high-stakes testing altogether.
Do Not Sweat the Admission Essay
If you do not enjoy writing, the admission essay may be your greatest source of stress. Do not let it drag you down. The college admission essay is not meant to demonstrate that you are a future Nobel laureate. The point is to distinguish yourself as a human being from the countless other qualified applicants in the pool. Do not attempt to do too much with your admission essay. Admission officers are looking for something that goes beyond the numbers (i.e. GPA, SAT/ACT scores, etc.). But they are not looking for your life story.
As IvyWise explains,
if you keep in mind that the essay is not meant to tell the reader everything about you, and that it is just one part of a larger whole, it should bring the task into perspective.
Narrow your focus to a brief and compelling anecdote that captures something important to you, and connect this interest to the contributions you will make as a member of the campus community. Writing about subjects that truly awaken your passion can be a great way to overcome the fear of putting pen to paper.
Get Writing Help Now
That said, if you do struggle with the basic mechanics of writing, it is extremely important to get some outside help now. Nobody will teach you how to write in college. But you will need to do it in order to get through your degree program. Make sure you arrive at college with the basic writing skills you need to survive.
Hire a tutor or even consider taking a remedial writing instruction course at a community college before you make the leap into a four-year university. This is especially important for online students, who may be required to use the written medium for everything from essay writing and exam completion to chat forum participation and basic email communication with professors and classmates.
Cultivate a few writing tools as you work through the admissions process. In addition to making the essay and application a lot less stressful, you will suffer a whole lot less academic stress in the pursuit of your degree.
Get Plenty of Rest!
Sleep deprivation is an epidemic among college students. According to Statista, 45.3% of college students reported, in 2021, that they felt tired between five and seven days a week. That kind of exhaustion is not only stressful, but it can directly impact your educational performance.
Start out on the right foot before you get to college. Do not lose sleep over your college application. Of course, you are balancing a lot right now. You have got essays to write, classes to crush, exams to study for. It is easy to put sleep last on the list of priorities, but it is also a mistake. Make sure you treat your sleep with the respect it deserves. Get into the habit now and you will do more than reduce the stress of the admissions process. You will also get into a good sleep groove before you start your online classes.
Ultimately, surviving the college application process is as much about mental health maintenance as practical preparation. But of course, it does not end there. The application process is simply your first big test as a college student. Make sure you are ready for the next stage and remember that online college students need mental health support too.
Learn more with a look at our Guide to the College Admissions Process.
Or get tips on studying, student life, and much more with a look at our Student Resources.