Wednesday’s Parent: Stressing out the college process

Stressing out the college process. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Stressing out the college process. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Reactions to stress vary from fatigue to frenzy. Some may be frozen in a state of inaction, unable to be motivated. Others may find themselves so agitated they can’t concentrate. Either way, things don’t get done or done poorly. This may be disastrous for the college-bound loaded with an extra long college prep to-do list.

Keeping up with increasingly difficult classes, studying for college admission tests, researching colleges and filling out applications are happening as students are preparing for their driver’s license and getting ready for the prom. They are assuming more independence and responsibility and are faced with a host of new issues.  Choosing a college may mean living far from home. Paying for college may mean acquiring debt through student loans. These changes affect every family member.

Stress breeds stress

Parents and their children may respond differently to anxiety. As the pressure mounts, reactions grow stronger. Worse, family members may feed off each other’s emotions. Instead of having each other’s back as a college prep parent/student team, parents and students may find themselves at odds, harboring frustration and anger towards each other.

The best way to handle stress is to recognize how you deal with it. Learn your response and before it drags you down, start communicating. Get the team back together and on the same page. Perhaps a time management plan would make things easier to meet deadlines. Maybe better organization would speed up efficiency.

Use good stress

Not all stress is bad. Good stress from positive and exciting experiences may help motivate and inspire. Getting the lead in a play, making the team or becoming a club officer may generate joy for the accomplishment. It may also lead to concern about performance.

Students may focus on the great opportunity and the fun of anticipation to fuel enthusiasm and determination. Proud parents may offer congratulations and then take a step back. They should be careful not to add to the pressure of meeting high expectations their child may be feeling.

Take a stress break

Suzanne Shaffer and I have talked about some aspects of college prep stress before. Some of the tips in Wednesday’s Parent: 7 holiday stress-busters and Wednesday’s Parent: SOS over application stress may apply now. 

Overall, I’ve found the most effective way to interrupt the stress cycle is with laughter and fun. Try and find the humor in the absurdity and perspective in the freakout. College prep is the first step children take as they prepare for adulthood. Make it work for you not against you and give yourself a break!

Find expert help

On Twitter chat #CampusChat Wednesday, April 23 at 9pm ET/6pm PT, hosted by Wednesday’s Parent, guest Fern Weis of YOUR FAMILY MATTERS, LLC provides her tips and suggestions for dealing with stress during the college process. Later, check out Smart College Visit for a recap of the chat.

Read this to learn how to join the chat and participate in the conversation with your questions and comments.

Read Suzanne’s blog for typical scenarios to deal with Stress During College Prep.

Wednesday’s Parent: SOS over application stress

Emergency call button - Public Information Symbol

Emergency call button – Public Information Symbol

Are you and your child ready to send out a distress signal from application stress overload? If so, you are not alone. Between the pressures from the mid-semester crunch and the additional chore of filling out applications, parents and students can feel overwhelmed.

There are hard questions to answer, time-consuming virtual and real paperwork, deadlines looming and your child’s college future at stake. “Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way,” according to It can cause forgetfulness, anxiety, unhappiness, trouble concentrating, bad attitudes, short tempers and a host of physical and behavioral symptoms.

I have gone through the process as a student, parent and writer/lecturer to parents of the college-bound. You will get through it like me and others before you. Colleges are chock full of current students and alumni to prove it. Perhaps the most difficult question to answer is how can you and your student reduce your application stress and prevent a stress-induced catastrophe like submission of an incomplete application, one peppered with errors or one that couldn’t be submitted because of a missed deadline?

Here are some answers and ways to reduce application stress:

Follow the leader In most college prep activities, the student does the work and drives the process. He takes the classes, studies for tests, and participates in extracurriculars. When it comes to college choice, the student must be on board or else there is little incentive for her to make the most out of the higher education opportunity. Although there are specific ways parents can help such as joining in researching schools and discussing geographic and financial parameters, for future stress prevention which ones to apply to must be those the student wants to attend.

Teamwork Form a parent-student team to help your child tackle the application task. There is much to do and parents can help. As a team member, ditch parental nagging for “business-like” meetings. Together, create a to do list, schedule each activity on a calendar, and follow-up on progress. Push-up deadlines to give some leeway. Organization and time management are life skills families can work on together. Breaking each job into small manageable steps is a recipe for success. As goals are reached, stress is reduced. Celebrate accomplishments together to further conquer the stress.

Assignments Parents may be surprised that college admission, scholarship and financial aid (finaid) applications may be due around the same time. Although most applications are about the child not the parent, parent information is required on finaid apps for financially dependent students. Here, parents directly contribute to the college application process, not just help their student through it. (Many parents are also directly involved in college visits. Combine a family vacation and you have the makings of a great collegecation). Knowing who does what when is a big stress-reliever.

Downtime Parents and children can give each other emotional support, too. Dole out compliments when appropriate and encouragement when needed. Giving each other space and making sure the calendar includes downtime (alone, with family, with friends) provides a much needed stress-relieving break.

Attitude There is nothing as stress-relieving as the successful completion of a difficult task but a positive “can do” attitude can ease the burden until the goal is reached. Life is full of challenges ready to be conquered. Injecting fun and laughter can help put things into perspective and reduce stress. So watch a comedy, tell each other jokes, look through family photo albums. What’s your family fun ideas?

Support system There are other resources parents and students can reach out to for help. School counselors and college staff are super sources. Colleges decide which applications they require and most applications are submitted online. Private outside scholarships have their own applications, too. There are times when application instructions/questions are confusing or sites have operating problems. Don’t waste time stressing out (especially if you are near a deadline); call and find out what to do next.

On my website, I talk about knowledge and reduced stress. The answers may not always be what you want to hear, but the abilities to plan, reach out, re-evaluate, adjust and move forward, make it so much easier is to cope.

Read on for Suzanne’s blog about application stress.


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.

*POCSmom’s DIY Insight: College-Bound Stress and the Stress-Buster

Cliché: Stressed out.    
POCS Reality: POCSmom is a college-bound stress-buster.


Sky rocketing college costs, complicated admission and financial aid processes, rules that can change at any time. No wonder parents and their college-bound students are confused, stressed, and having trouble partnering in the college process. 

For best chance of future college success, it takes a village, or at least parents and students working together. How will you handle the hot topics of money, high school senior year expectations (senior privileges, SATS/ACTs, AP/IB classes, prom) and college prep (lists, college visits, admission applications, financial aid applications)? How will you deal with outside influences and weigh opinions of well-meaning family and friends, counselors and other experts?

It’s POCSmom to the rescue-partnering with Certified Parent Coach Kay Kimball Gruder and presenting a FREE one-hour webinar:

Beating College-Bound Stress: Strategies & Tips for Better Parent-Student Communication

Monday, Sept 26 form 9-10 pm EDT.


This is no ordinary chat. We will be giving specific how to’s on the 3 hot topics of $, high school senior year, and college-prep and taking questions from participants. We will talk about the quality of college-bound info (sources, expertise, and how current the info is). It’s all about how best to form a parent/college-bound student partnership for best chance of college process success.

POCSmom’s DIY Insight: The best way for families to navigate the college process is by working together with the knowledge to plan and make college affordable. Then parents and their college-bound students can lose the stress and find the fun to enjoy the wonderful college years.

POCSmom, the college-bound stress-buster will lead the way.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student