Parents who have children in high school are already concerned about college admission, and sometimes spending time with other parents adds to the stress. Anxiety is contagious, and sharing stories about students with perfect grades and test scores who were turned down by every college doesn’t help.
Then there’s that human impulse to compare your child’s prospects with those of the kid next door. Hearing that another junior has already completed 300 hours of community service or has been preparing for the SAT since the age of 12 can make anyone feel anxious about her child’s future. It’s hard not to make comparisons, but what’s right for someone else’s child may not be right for your child. That doesn’t mean your child won’t be just as successful and happy as the kid who’s loading up on AP courses.
Having some unstructured time while in high school enables students to discover who they are and what they want. Living in a constant state of anxiety about getting everything done isn’t healthy, and some of the super-successful high school students burn out and become depressed by the time they get to college.
Some of those driven students are already suffering. The pressure on students to build the perfect resume for college applications has some kids so over-scheduled that their health is at risk. Adolescent medicine specialists are concerned about teenagers complaining of exhaustion, headaches, stomach problems, depression and irritability.
Not every child suffers from over-scheduling. Some kids thrive when they’re very busy. But everyone needs a little downtime. Some high schools are addressing the problem by limiting the number of AP classes students can take at one time and not allowing students to use their lunchtime for schoolwork. Parents may need to set limits on activities and let their child know that it’s okay not to take every AP class offered at school.
The stress can peak senior year, when it’s time for college applications. Remember that there is a college for every student. What matters is making sure your child is admitted to a school where she’ll thrive academically, socially and personally. The school that’s ideal for your best friend’s son might not be a good fit for your child.
The antidote to anxiety is action. While parents should not be completing their children’s college applications, they can certainly help with organization. Creating a calendar with test dates and registration deadlines as well as college application and financial aid form deadlines can help students stay on track through the process.
One way to have a less stressful senior year is by applying to a school that offers rolling admission, where decisions are often made within six to eight weeks. If there are any rolling admission schools on a student’s list, it’s best to get those applications in early. If a school receives a huge number of applications later in the school year, admission offers may be harder to come by. And having a college acceptance before Thanksgiving goes a long way in making senior year less stressful for the whole family.