5 Ways to Reduce Stress While Applying to College

If you're a high school junior, you're probably starting to begin the college applications process. While it's not necessarily the time to start writing those essays yet, college is probably still on your mind.

For me, applying to college was an incredibly stressful experience. There were the college entrance exams, the letters of recommendation, the essays, and the deadlines. It was something completely new that I really hadn't gone through before. I felt worried about picking the perfect colleges to apply to and then I felt inadequate worrying about whether or not my applications were good enough, if I was good enough.

As a note to students beginning to apply to college, I want to let you know that you will probably face some sort of doubt and insecurities in your abilities and strengths as you go through the process, which is normal and 100% okay. It's something new that you don't exactly know how to do yet, so you don't need to be perfect in it.

While I wish I should say something to you to help you alleviate those doubts, during my process, I felt like no matter what anyone said and no matter what I told myself, I could never shake that doubt. Although I may not be able to give you a magic solution to ridding that stress from your life, I can help offer some ways for you to alleviate stress in other forms.

Before starting, I just want to give a little notice. This post is a sponsored post in partnership with College Board and Her Campus Media. However, all the opinions and ideas are my own. 

One of the easiest ways that you can reduce some stress is by getting organized and mapping out a game plan. The College Board Big Future website is an incredibly helpful (and free!!!) tool in the college process that can help you get organized, do research on schools that you're interested in, and expose you to advice resources to help you through the applications process.

While this is a sponsored post with College Board, I do want to clarify that I did use the college search feature on the Big Future website during my college applications process, which was before I partnered with College Board for this post. This is not a lie to make this sponsored post flow better, I did actually use this website to help me.

01 | Start early. 

Now that we're nearing summer, it's a great time for all of you high school juniors to start doing a little college research with your free time. If you're already reading this post, then good for you, you're already on the right track. You don't necessarily need to be worrying about the actual application until it opens on August 1st (I think that's when most applications open?) but keep in mind the schools that you want to apply to, what you need to fulfill for each one, and just be aware of what you need to accomplish in order to perfect that application when the time comes.

And if you're younger than a high school junior, my advice to you would be to start your standardized testing in your first semester of junior year. One of my regrets in the college application process was not starting my standardized testing sooner, I didn't begin until the second semester of my junior year and things were so hectic in school already that I felt stressed trying to juggle college entrance exams with schoolwork. Additionally, if you start earlier, you have more time if you find that you want to take another test than expected or want to add a subject test.

02 | Create a list of the things that you MUST HAVE in a school. 

Before applying, there's no pressure to create a list of super specific details about a school that you want to have, you should at the minimum have a list of "musts" in a school. If you feel that you know a little more about what you want, you can create a list of "likes" that you must have in a school.

I indicated an urban setting as my preference,
but indicated it as a "want" rather than a "must have"
For example, one of my "musts" was diversity. Coming from a high school with a very ethnically diverse background, I strongly felt that I needed diversity at college as well. All of the colleges that I applied to had strong diversity, so when the time to finally choose which college I would be attending came, I no longer had to consider diversity as a factor for my decision, as I was sure that at any school I was accepted to would have that "must" of diversity.

As for my "likes", I really wanted a school in an urban atmosphere. However, unlike diversity, I was willing to slightly compromise on that urban atmosphere by considering schools that were physically surrounded by an urban area as well as schools that would be close to an urban area but not directly in it. Unlike diversity, there was a little more flexibility with that urban environment that made me classify it as more of a like.

The college search function on the Big Future website is really helpful in helping you narrow down the colleges that you should consider applying to based off of your preferences for a college. You can classify your preferences as "musts" or "wants" and the website will generate colleges that fit you based off of what you are looking for, helping you eliminate time researching colleges to apply to so you can spend more time on your application. I thought that this feature was super user friendly and helpful for visualizing some of your options. 

03 | Don't be afraid to ask people who have completed the process for advice. 

Some of the best resources out there are simply the advice and perspectives of people that have experienced the stress of the applications process already. When I was applying to colleges, I felt so lost and confused. However, after completing the process, I feel like I understand it a lot more and also look back on it and realize all of the strengths and weaknesses of the way that I approached the experience.

Big Future College Search
For example, one of the recommendations that I received was to create a spreadsheet documenting all of the colleges that I intended to apply to, the requirements needed (letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, etc.), and the application deadlines, in order to help keep track of everything. I did end up doing that and I found it very helpful in allowing me to see what I needed to complete, whether it meant completing my application by a given date or striving for an SAT score of xxxx.

Considering the advice of others around you can be incredibly helpful. However, I tend to be pretty shy and I was scared to reach out. If you're like me in that sense, you like that the Big Future website has a video gallery of student stories talking about their college experiences and their applications experiences. I did not actually use this video gallery while going through the applications process because I didn't notice it before. Seeing this resource now, I definitely think that it would have been a great resource to hear from real people's perspectives because I think the best learning tool is real life experience.

04 | Limit your applications amount to 10 or less.

This is a general rule of thumb. I think that anything over 10 colleges to apply to is going to just add extra stress and extra costs to college applications. I applied to 7 colleges, all varying on a spectrum from safety to stretch school. I personally thought that I applied to a perfect amount of colleges, at least for my needs and wants, but I do know that some people apply to even less and find that it's a good amount as well, it's all about selecting a few colleges that you feel that you can potentially be happy at to apply as well as having a solid backup plan if all else fails (which hopefully it won't). I ended up getting accepted to 4 out of the 7 schools that I applied to, which allowed me to have some options after receiving my decisions, but not an overwhelming amount.

However, there are a lot more than 10 colleges out there. The Big Future college search function is great for helping you narrow down some to actually apply to, but if you feel that you have too many, the compare colleges feature is really great for getting a big picture idea of the similarities/differences between the schools. It can also come in handy when the time rolls around that you're deciding which college to enroll at, which was also a very difficult decision for me, but that story is for another day.

Big Future Compare Colleges

I'll be honest, the compare colleges feature will likely not have the same effect as getting on campus and visiting schools, talking to students, and getting that first-hand perspective of campus culture and lifestyle, but the compare colleges feature is great for understanding the numbers and the straightforward facts that will still play a big role in your college decision. I think that the Big Future website is a great place to see the big picture information regarding each type of college and get started in your college research.

05 | Create a few strong essays and re-purpose those ideas to incorporate into other applications. 

College applications consist of a lot of essays that can make the whole process seem overwhelming. However, what I found was that each of my applications had a lot of similarities in the essays, even though they were answering different questions. When crafting an application, of course you want to put your best foot forward, which usually consists of showing off your best qualities, maybe through anecdotes and stories. Because of that, all the essays I wrote, even if they were sent to different schools, had the same stories and ideas in them.

Although I may have needed to write 1-4 (that's just an example) essays per school, I really only needed to come up with a few really good ideas and then re-purpose them to fit various essay questions. For example, one of the essays that I wrote was about cake decorating. Although the essay prompts for each school was different, I used one main essay and then condensed it, expanded on it, and morphed it to fit the prompt so that each school got to hear about my interest in cake decorating.

In doing so, you ensure that each university gets to see the best parts of you and also helps you to cut down on some of the time and stress of writing so many essays.

If you're applying to college, I wish you the best of luck!

The college applications process is difficult and stressful and new. A lot of the takeaways that I learned from the process were ones that people told me along the way, but I didn't quite believe them until I finished the process for myself. I can't tell you any magical words of wisdom that will make the stress completely disappear, but I hope that these strategies will help you to minimize stress as much as you can. Take advantage of the resources that you have, there are so many free resources to help you through this process, Big Future being one of them, so don't let them go to waste.

Additionally, Her Campus is having a giveaway of a $500 Visa gift card that you can use to visit any college you want! All you have to do is build a college list on the Big Future website. It's super easy to enter, so I highly suggest that you check out the giveaway.

I wish you the best of luck in beginning this college applications period! Even though you might have doubts or feel like it's too much for you to do, I promise you that you can and you are more than capable. :)

Big thanks to College Board and Her Campus Media for sponsoring this post!

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5 Ways to Reduce Stress While Applying to College


  1. This is such a great post! I will be in your shoes this year in that I will be a high school senior applying to colleges. I totally agree with you that you have to start early and apply to 10 (or less schools). If you apply to more schools you risk not having the quality of work that you would like across the board. Great post!!

    - Avalon from simplyavalon.blogspot.com

    1. Best of luck to you in the application process! If you need any advice, know that my inbox is open :)

  2. I so wish I had had this as reference back in high school prepping for college! This is so helpful!