• Dr. Thom

Couch Surfing College Search: Controlling the Controllables


Photo by Martin Péchy on Unsplash

“Everything just seems so out of control right now.” My friend is lamenting, forehead listing to one side, braced by her thumb and index finger. My wife and I are chatting with some of our good friends during a Zoom happy hour. We all shake our head before agreeing to talk about good things that are happening in our lives. Lost in all this is the fact that we’ve never hosted digital hangouts with our friends and families before this week. We were always so busy with kids activities and other commitments. Think about your weekly routine only 6 months ago. Take a moment and really indulge the activity: remember what you and your family were doing then. School was in full swing along with fall activities and sports leagues. If you are anything like the average family, that means 3-4 hours a week per child on practices/lessons, another 3-4 hours of homework per week, and all the SUV shuttling in between. So it looks something like this for our family: Monday night is art class and Boy Scouts, Tuesday is soccer practice and golf lessons, Wednesday is religious education and youth group, Thursday is another art class and another soccer practice, Friday is free, which is good for the boys to have free play with their friends because Saturday and Sunday are full of soccer games. The state of the modern family was overwhelmed by most assessments not even six months ago as the task of saying no to commitments seemed almost Herculean. Well, the entire world just said “no” for you. You feel somewhat out of place if you’re upbeat during quarantine 2020. It feels as though people are looking at you as if to say, “do you not get it?” In truth, the Coronavirus has created a lot of opportunities and choices for families that would otherwise be impossible to consider. This pandemic has hit the reset button on your routines, and you now get to choose how to proceed from here. Let me be clear that everyone needs to do their part to flatten the curve: stay home, social distance, and wash your hands. Now is not the time to be selfish and host your annual “Start of Spring Cookout,” just because you desperately want things to be normal. I am not saying anything here to the contrary. Within that framework though, there is still a lot of reasons to stay upbeat in all this.

Controlling the Controllables One of the guiding principles we use in our college coaching is the idea that you must focus on the things you can control when moving through the college search. There are a ton of things in the college search that you have zero control over: how many other people apply to college, what are the college’s enrollment goals, how a college chooses to review your application, how much time they spend doing so, whether the admissions officer likes your well-thought-out college essay, and at least a dozen other factors that I can’t even of right now. But, just because people cannot control these things, doesn’t mean they don’t try. They exhaust themselves worrying about variables in the college search that they dilute their efforts and attention. They try to control all aspects of the college search out of some misplaced abundance of caution. They spread their energies in a breathless attempt to mitigate the stress they feel in a process that feels out of their control. Sound familiar? The reality is that there are a handful of vitally important factors you must exert control over to navigate the college search, or any stressful situation for that matter: Your mindset: There is simply nothing more powerful than your mindset when navigating the college search. Being intentional about the information you take in, and how you manage your own inner dialogue are essential skills in navigating the college search. Avoiding known sources of stress (aka, all those college application message boards where people anonymously co-celebrate their anxiety over college) is just as vital. Remember, you are responsible for everything that happens to you and for you. You may not be to blame for the outcomes of the college search, but you are responsible for what happens next.

Your health: Yes, exercise and diet have been thrown a monkey wrench, but they have never been more important. We teach a commitment to health and wellness as immunity shields and a form of resilience training for future stressful situations. If your health-promoting routines are the first to go when stress hits you, you can recognize the pattern and interrupt it. Your schedule has likely never been this wide-open for new habits.

Your relationships: It has never been easier to connect with people, it’s just that the way you connect may be different than what you are accustomed. People in our neighborhood are putting their Christmas Lights back up and little kids are drawing pictures and positive messages on the sidewalk in chalk to bring a little more joy to their neighbors. People are writing notes to leave in the mailboxes for elderly neighbors who live alone. Several houses have put teddy bears in their windows so little kids can go on “bear hunts” while on walks with their parents. Another friend of ours has a young daughter who is having her birthday “party” be a drive-through parade in the neighborhood, with friends encouraged to make signs to hold up. Yes, connecting with those around us has a new layer of complexity, but there’s still a simple truth to it all. Our ability to stay healthy and happy is grounded in the quality of our relationships. In the college search, we advocate for a “circle of advisors” to help the student through the many various emotional hills and valleys. Being intentional about how you are connecting with others about your emotional needs is a vital skill. I understand that a great deal of what is happening around us globally is out of our control. But as soon as we clear away the fog of our misplaced expectation that all of these things should be in our control, the easier it is for us to see a beautiful truth. We have all of the control we need to be healthy and happy spread out in front of us in a landscape of choices. Be safe and be well my friends. Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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