Finally! After years of hard work, your child has almost reached the finish line—the last few months of senior year are packed with excitement and activities. It’s also a time of transition as high school seniors becomes young adults and prepares to enter a new stage in life. But it is well known that change—even good change—can be stressful. The wait to find out just what the future holds can be particularly trying for teens awaiting college admissions decisions. Those of us in the business have a special name for this type of pressure: “senior stress.”
What is Senior Stress?
As high school seniors finish class projects, take final exams, and say good-bye to favored teachers and good friends, they are also actively contemplating what the future holds. A litany of unspoken questions constantly runs through their minds. What if I don’t get into my first, second, or even third choice school? What if I don’t get into college at all? Should I have taken a higher math class? Joined a different school club? Studied harder for standardized tests?
At this point, many seniors realize that junior year wasn’t the most difficult part of high school after all! These final few months of uncertainty can challenge even the most stoic student’s calm. So how can parents help their high school seniors navigate this unchartered territory? I’ve shared some of my best tips on managing senior stress below.
Five Tips to Help Your High School Seniors Manage Senior Stress
- Hold your questions. Remember, no one enjoys waiting. Your teen is no exception. Try to avoid asking questions that ratchet up your high school student’s stress level. There’s nothing worse for your senior than getting daily requests for updates on the college application process. Especially once the applications have been submitted, students have no control over the process. Constantly asking for status updates won’t help.
- Respect your teen’s privacy. College admissions time is exciting for parents, too. It can be difficult to resist the temptation to share good news with family and friends. Likewise, you may find yourself wanting to solicit comfort or suggestions from friends and family following bad news. But news about college admissions, whether good or bad, is your high school senior’s to share…or not share. Talk to your teen and come to an agreement about how and when information about his or her admissions status can be shared with others.
- Run a little interference. With everything else going on in your teen’s life, he or she might start to get a little mercurial. If your high school senior has made it clear that status questions are unwelcome, help him or her out by asking your friends and family to refrain from prying. You can help preempt awkward moments between your teen and inquiring minds by interjecting a quick disclaimer, such as, “Please don’t ask how the college process is going. We’ll share our news when we’re ready.”
- Serve as backup. Your teen may continue to receive awards, change courses, or earn honors throughout senior year. It is OK to gently remind your high school senior to provide updates about these changes to the admissions offices. Before the application process begins, consider creating a plan with your teen to track these types of changes and events. Then, when senior stress hits, you can both refer back to your plan to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
- Keep calm and parent on. Of course, the college admissions process is stressful for parents, too! You’re dealing with your own doubts, often fueled by hearing others’ horror stories about the admissions process or the oversharing of parents whose children have been accepted for admission everywhere. Plus, you are on pins and needles waiting to find out where you will be shipping your baby off to live and how much it is going to cost you!
You will do a great service for both yourself and your high school seniors if you make sure to take care of yourself. Take intentional steps to find calm in the midst of the chaos, and encourage your teen to do the same.
Together, You and Your Teen Can Beat Senior Stress
Now that you know it is coming, you can begin to prepare for senior stress now. Plan to keep the waiting period between applications and admissions decisions as stress-free as possible. Talk in advance with your senior about how he or she wants to manage the process. Once you’ve entered the stress-zone, try to be aware of your teen’s changing moods. Respond to any anxieties or fears he or she expresses by offering reassurances.
Remember, life has many twists and turns, and each one brings a new set of opportunities. No matter what happens during the admissions process, your teens will know that you are their greatest supporter.
Stephanie Klein Wassink is a former admissions officers and founder of AdmissionsCheckup.com. She is a graduate of Brown University and The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.