This September, I am struck at the frequency with which I am hearing about college anxiety. Yes, I am hearing it from high school seniors, but also from juniors, and sophomores, and even freshman. It seems that these days, it is never too early to start worrying about college.
At least this is the message that kids are getting from their schools, athletic coaches, peers, and to a lesser extent, parents. As a psychologist, I think it is nuts (and no, that is not a clinical term).
Here are my "words of wisdom" as the college application season approaches:
-When we spend years thinking/worrying about the "next" step in our lives, we miss out on the present moment. Yes, there are things we must do to prepare for college admission, but not at the expense of enjoying being a teenager and having a life during high school.
-Despite the seemingly popular belief that there are only 8 colleges in the US (not naming any names here), there are in fact almost 3000 4-year colleges in this country. There is a place out there for everyone. The kids who worry about college the most tend to be the ones who have the least to worry about -- they are the kids who will get into perfectly great schools. Our jobs as the adults in their lives is to help them discover what is important to them, and find schools that fit those criteria -- even if those schools are not the most elite and well-known.
-Kids spend a lot of time considering their final list of schools to which they are going to apply. I am convinced that once they develop this list, they could pick any school out of a hat and be happy there. Placing all our hopes on one school is misguided. There is no way to know if that ONE school will make a child happier or more successful than any other school on their list. Once the applications are in, what is often needed is an attitude adjustment -- these are all great choices for me and what really matters is the attitude I have about my college experience once I get there.
-My final tips for kids and parents during this potential stressful time -- PUT YOUR BLINDERS ON. Ignore all the advice and pressure from friends, other families, school and coaches. Focus on what is right for your child and your family. This might actually mean skipping some college fairs or non-mandatory programs at school that stir up the anxiety. Find out what you need to do, do it, and filter out the rest.
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.