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Overcoming the Stress of College Applications

It is undoubtful that the process of applying to college is always extremely stressful, independently of anyone’s situation. For many people today, attending college is the first major step in adult life and is seen as a defining experience on both personal and professional levels. College enables young adults to not just gain the appropriate knowledge to start their careers but is also an environment for making connections and exploring oneself.

Therefore, it’s only natural for students and their families to place a lot of importance on the process of college applications.

Why is it all so stressful?

Adolescence is already a hectic period in our lives with all the physical, social, and behavioral changes that come with it. On top of that, students are continuously under pressure to keep up with their schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and social life. Finally, we add in the many requirements and deadlines to apply for each college, which often confuses both students and their guardians.

If we look at this process up close, we quickly become aware of all the many ways it can mistake applicants and cause them so much stress.

To start, each college has its own approach to college admissions, demanding different academic and personal standards from the applicants, in accordance with their objectives and values.

At the end of the day, it’s not just the student that wants to find their perfect social, academic and financial fit, but also a college that wishes for a specific type of student for its institution.

Further, since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the process became even more complex as several colleges changed their requirements and the process itself. In general applications have four main components: the GPA, the ACT or SAT scores, non-academic factors such as extracurricular activities, and the college essay. If before, it was already complicated to navigate the specific requirements and the weight of each component for every individual college application, after the pandemic and all the changes that were made as a result, the process became even more convoluted.

One of the main examples was the change made by many colleges towards optional ACT and SAT scores. Does this mean that students shouldn’t include their scores when applying? Should they even take the tests? Will other factors now have more weight in the admission decision? Etc.

Even before Covid-19, research already showed a trend for both the high school experience and the college application process to become ever more challenging.

In essence, being in high school and applying to college is becoming more and more complicated, putting an increasing amount of pressure on adolescents to work harder.

In today’s society, college degrees are seen as a requirement to enter several careers, particularly in science and related STEAM areas. More than just attending a college and earning a degree, there is an increasing focus on enrolling in a “good college”. It is generally thought that being admitted into one of these institutions is the first step on a road to success.

Whether you believe that the prestige and history of a college is one of the decisive factors, or that students should simply try to find the right fit for them, the end goal is ensuring that they have the most successful future possible.

Of course, for most students (and for their guardians), this puts an enormous amount of pressure to achieve the best performance possible and to craft the ideal applications. As we begin to make comparisons to other students and “successful” individuals, it can be easy to become wrapped up in a toxic stress mindset, particularly given the competitive nature of the admissions process of several colleges.

Toxic Stress isn’t Helpful

Stress is an essential physical and psychological reaction that helps us respond to the stimuli around us and keeps us focused and motivated. However, elevated levels of stress, especially over a long period of time can be incredibly damaging to our health.

In adolescents, an overwhelming amount of stress is associated with issues like lack of focus and motivation, as well as decreased adherence to habits that promote well-being, especially regular sleeping and exercise patterns and a healthy diet. Therefore, even just in itself, short-term stress can impact students’ health and their social and academic performance.

Nevertheless, given that adolescence is a crucial period of brain development and growth, students are particularly vulnerable to the effects of prolonged and high-level stress. In adolescents, this has been associated with severe mental and physical health issues, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. Further, given that this is a period of identity formation, students may see long-term effects like low self-esteem, indecision, procrastination, and shame, and may be more prone to a lack of satisfaction in their lives.

Reducing Stress

Of course, when it comes to actively managing stress, it’s all a lot easier said than done, especially in a particularly intense phase of our lives like applying to college. Nevertheless, there are ways to do it, and in this specific case, some of the most relevant factors to help students and their guardians get through the application process, with the least amount of stress, are support, preparation, and organization.

In relation to support, research conducted on high school students showed that support provided by a school counselor significantly increased the odds of students attending college and completing their courses. Along with other literature, this sheds light on the importance for adolescents to have a strong support system. Adults themselves require help throughout their whole lives, so it’s only natural for adolescents to need support as well, especially throughout such decisive moments.

Both the school staff (including teachers and counselors) and family must help students as they make their decisions and apply to college.

Then comes preparation and organization. As can be implied, this revolves around gathering information about colleges, the courses they offer, and their application requirements, and organizing that information so that you can prepare for the application process in due time.

It’s key to understand not just what you want from a course and a college, but also what type of candidates they’re looking for, what they value, and how students can market their experience and their results in the best way to fit into those requirements.

For every application, you need to ensure that the student’s attributes that best fit a college’s requirements and values are the ones highlighted. One key way to convey these is through the college essay.

How the STEAM in AI Mentoring Program can help

Independently of what stage of high school they’re in, the STEAM in AI College Prep program could be extremely beneficial to students as they navigate this process of preparation.

Perhaps a student is still uncertain about what colleges to apply to or what area to pursue. They may know what they want but don’t think they have the right experience or the level of academic performance to be admitted. Maybe they’re just looking for that one project that will help them to stand out as they write up their college essays.

That is where the STEAM in AI mentoring program comes in. Through a series of mentoring sessions with a college student from a STEAM background that they are interested in, students are given the opportunity to create an original and unique project of their choice. This provides two essential components that can significantly help students: mentoring and the project itself.

By connecting with someone already in college, studying a degree they’re interested in, students can find out more about that area, a college, or a specific degree, discover what conventional and non-conventional career paths may be available, and receive important guidance that will help them as they progress throughout their journey.

Then, by conducting their own project, the students can obtain a more realistic experience of what working in their field of interest is like and they can gain numerous skills that will be advantageous down the line.

For the students that are still undecided, this could be a wonderful opportunity to explore their options and help them reach a more informed decision. For all students in the program, the experience gained can help them set themselves apart during their college applications by showing commitment, passion, and an array of relevant skills.

Most importantly, participating in this program could be an immense help to many students (and their parents) as they face the stressful process of finishing high school and applying to colleges.

If you’re a high school student preparing for college and think that the STEAM in AI Research and Build Program could be for you, click here to apply.


Anand, S. and Bhatia, T. (2021) COVID-19 pandemic: Challenges among rising high school seniors, Class of 2021 and effect on stress regarding college admissions

Hirsch, C. (2019) Attachment to the Social Construct of Success and the Myth of the “Good College”: Effects of Toxic Stress on Affluent Adolescents

Scott, E. (2021) Test-Optional Admission: Why and How?

Content Writer

Content Writer Intern for DataEthics4All Foundation | Freelance Science Writer | Creator of The Unfiltered Scientist | BSc (Hons) Biology

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