applying to college anxiety

After They Apply to College, Which Kid Will Your Kid Be?

I invariably see one or more of these “next steps” from students after the application is in. Each of them has its pitfalls.

What should my kid be doing after he or she “knocks on the door of a college”?

College Prep Parents, entering the season of actually applying to one or more colleges is a big step. What I’ve learned is that after a kid finally “knocks on the door” of a school by applying, there are a variety of actions the high schooler might take as they wait for an answer on the other side of that door. But you want to be able to help them take the next steps in a way that will allow them to arrive and thrive at their future college.

After a college-bound student has applied to the potential “school of their dreams,” I invariably see one or more of the following reactions:

  • Feeling relieved that their part of the application process is over
  • Feeling anxious now that their application is being scrutinized by unseen persons
  • Happily checking off “just another task” as they head toward high school graduation
  • Second-guessing their choice of where to apply
  • Quickly applying to a “safety school”
  • Relaxing their effort in their high school coursework

The truth is, each reaction brings about a learning opportunity. So whether your kid is only a freshman or is in this exact spot as a senior, this article should help you prepare to coach them best, and it just might help you get to know your child better, too. (And remember, many kids will fit into more than one category!)

The Relieved Kid

This college applicant is relieved that their part of the process is over – and shows it! While your kid may have felt relief before when school papers and projects were finished, that may pale in comparison to this. Because of what is at stake, submitting a college application can provide a very different kind of relief.

For the serious applicant, having done everything in their power to prepare the best application is an experience that often produces a deep sense of satisfaction. Regardless of the outcome of the application, the College Prep Parent is in a position to recognize and support what their kid has done, and help them rejoice in taking this significant step.

So help your kid celebrate… and then make sure that, in their relief, they don’t move toward any of the negative aspects in the categories below.

The Anxious Kid

Sending the application makes this kid anxious – because now their application is being scrutinized by unseen persons who will make a life-altering decision concerning them. In high school, the college prep kid gets used to people judging their work. But now unseen people are scouring their college application – which means, to some students, that these shadowy figures are making an assessment of their whole life. The grades, the resumes, the gains, the losses, the strengths, the weaknesses – your kid may feel really vulnerable.

If this describes your child, you are in an important position to encourage your child to “own it.” You can remind them that no one document can capture them completely, but that they took their best shot at giving the college what they asked for. Your child has probably heard about the importance of finding “the right fit” college, but now they are reminded that the college is looking for “the right fit” as well. In other words, while admissions offices certainly don’t make perfect decisions, you can actually appreciate their expertise in discerning a student’s likelihood of success. This situation is one of many great opportunities for college prep parents to join their kid in praying for something that is clearly in God’s hands.

The “On to the Next Thing” Kid

Some kids see sending their application as the finish line in their college preparation, and they lose important momentum.

I have seen students that seemed to mentally “turn a switch off” when it came to preparing for college, once their application was submitted. I’m not talking about the ones who decide to “coast” academically (we will get to them in a bit), but the students that don’t continue to prepare for their life after high school.

Addressing academic areas of relative weakness while there are familiar, caring teachers around is time well spent. Researching the opportunities that exist in their potential college community is often easier in the spring when the college is in session than it is during summer orientation. And while your student is waiting to hear about acceptance, encourage them to continue to pray about “If not school A, then maybe school B.” While the application may help them arrive at their future college, there’s still much they can be doing to prepare to thrive.

The Second-guessing Kid

This kid wonders, Did I apply to the right place?

Second-guessing after an application is submitted can be a good thing. After the excitement of the first application eases a little, some students have been known to consider other schools – perhaps even more objectively. Every year I see students apply to schools that have long been their Number One… and then while they wait, they open themselves to other possibilities. College Prep Parents may be involved in many “pros and cons” list-making sessions. (If you are, enjoy it, because you probably will talk about these conversations for years!)

The Doubling-up Kid

The Second-guessing Kid may turn into this kind of college applicant: the student who applies to a “sure thing” college just in case their first choice(s) don’t work out.

The idea of applying to at least one school that seems certain to accept the student is not a bad idea. But beware: I have seen many students not put much thought into their choice of “safety schools.” Applying to a college just because it will accept your kid is only a wise course of action if they would actually want to go there. That may sound obvious, but there is a need for your child to find out what any college can offer them, including a so-called “safety school.” There are still differences between various schools with open or liberal enrollment policies, and students should put the time into finding a fit.

The Coaster

Of course, even if they fit into one of the categories above, most kids are at least tempted to coast academically. Yet this reaction is the most dangerous. Some of the more selective schools are truly interested in a senior mid-year report and the final transcript of those students that they have accepted. If a high school applicant shows that they are not really the motivated, hardworking student that the college thought they were accepting, admission decisions can easily change.

One of my past students, after receiving acceptance from his intended college, began to do the bare minimum in his classes and barely passed his final semester. After the college got his final transcript, within a few days he received a letter of “rescinded acceptance” with the explanation of “your final semester indicates that you are not the kind of student you portrayed yourself to be.” This lesson in personal integrity was a wake-up call to all who knew him. College Prep Parents can share this warning with any kid that is tempted to coast.

Even if a student applies to a college that seems “less selective,” he or she never knows when their completed high school transcript might be viewed in the future – for jobs, scholarships, transfer schools, grad schools, etc. What’s more, a kid who spends five months “coasting” (followed by a few months of summer break) may find it particularly hard to adjust to the rigors of college academics.

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