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College Application Fatigue is Real and This is What You Can Do About it


College application fatigue usually sets in this time of year
Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

There are some statistics that I simply cannot shake from my head and this is one of them.


More than half of approximately 1,000 high schools students surveyed indicated that applying to college was the most stressful academic experience they have endured to date.


Not term papers, AP exams, or giving a speech in front of the whole class. Not even the dreaded ACT is more stressful than navigating the complexity of the application process.


In that same study, more than three quarters of students feared that making a single mistake on their application would lessen their chances of being admitted to a desired college. In light of the increase in applications brought on by the growth in test optional policies, as well as the most recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate the use of race in admissions evaluations, we are seeing a steady increase in the sheer volume of “application stuff” that students are being asked (or even suggested) to submit to colleges. Essays, top-ten lists, descriptions of their favorite books, and most recently, an increase in 3-minute introductory videos, all combine into one daunting to-do list.


All of which are to be completed with the belief that if you make one mistake, your application is doomed. And while we do our best to consistently remind our students that admissions officers are human too, and do NOT expect perfection in their applications, I can easily see how this assumption persists.


This time of year we see a number of students reporting a high degree of application fatigue. And while there is likely a more clinical definition of this condition, the primary symptom is essentially when your student reports a very high degree of being “over it.”


College application fatigue is absolutely real and can show up in all kinds of ways:

  • Avoidance, as in simply not wanting to work on applications at all

  • Lowering of standards on the quality of the application

  • Crankiness and cynicism about the whole dang thing

As parents, what can we do to help if we find our students expressing some of these elements of application fatigue?


Empathy


The simplest form of help that you can provide is simply understanding. The application process is very different now than it was when you (and I) applied to college. I mean seriously, I filled out a form during a recent doctor’s visit that was more extensive than my college application and I bet you could say the same. Do your best to simply communicate your understanding that you know it sucks, and that you are there for them.


Focus on energy and organization


We encourage students to NOT try and fit in their college application work at the end of the day. This is kind of like trying to get the last remaining toothpaste out of the tube. It’s just not going to work or be their best. Encourage your student to prioritize their applications during times when they have the most energy or even (temporarily) canceling some activities and events to clear a mental head space for them to work on applications. Plan out their work using calendars and to-do lists rather than figuring it out when they feel like. These tools have been shown to lessen the cognitive load of students having to keep it all in their head. It also teaches them a technique to rely on during stressful times.


Celebrate


When an application goes in, focus on the win. Fix them their favorite meal or take them out to their favorite restaurant. Part of the challenge in application submission season is that it feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole. Once you submit one application, there is another to complete, then test scores to submit, and then . . . Take time after they hit the submit button to breathe and celebrate.


For our own high school senior, who is navigating his own application fatigue, we help him celebrate by always having cheesecake in the fridge to celebrate. At any given moment our 17-year old will have a certain confectionery that he simply cannot get enough of and right now, it’s cheesecake. Our fridge is reminiscent of the Golden Girls and their cheesecake.


Remind them this is temporary


There is an end to this tunnel, and trust me, once applications go in, students often report that in hindsight, the application process wasn’t that bad. There will be times in the future when they will have multiple competing demands that will need to be managed. For most students, “gutting it out” or “just get to work” is less helpful advice. Focus on process and routines rather than on summoning up some mystical sheer will.


And here’s something you might not have thought about:


In about three months, another round of application fatigue will set in - for the admissions officer who is responsible for reading all of the applications students submitted. Yes, college application fatigue is real for them too. Which of course, makes me wonder if there isn’t a better way to do all of this.


Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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