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College App Anxiety (and How to Deal)

College App Anxiety (and How to Deal)

I’m only 15, but I’m already feeling the stress of college applications. The pressure to stand out from thousands of applicants is so high, it’s been the cause of many personal panic attacks.

I am not a person who stands out. I am a white, middle-class female, and I haven’t yet had to overcome any serious life obstacles. On paper, I’m just like any other high school girl who wants to go to a good school. Rory Gilmore summed up my feelings perfectly on Gilmore Girls when she said, “We all take the same classes and we all give the same perfunctory run-of-the-mill responses.” After all, there are plenty of students with a perfect GPA who are also president of the student council—so what makes me special?

College is still a few years away, but even now, I need to think about what I can do to make my application shine. My anxiety has made this even more stressful. I haven’t even gotten to the real application process yet, and I already feel like I’m not doing enough. Many students around me are taking rigorous college courses over the summer and joining every club they possibly can. My anxiety tells me that I need to go to the best school out there, but it also tells me I’m not exceptional enough to get in. It tells me I am no more than an average student who will go to a good, but not great, college.

In my head, I know that no matter where I go, I’ll have a good experience. However, my anxiety has made me believe that I will have failed if I don’t get into my dream school. Although this mindset motivates me to do things that will get me into great places, the stress that has come with it is emotionally draining. 

So I’ve learned to calm myself down and focus on what I enjoy, rather than signing up for as many clubs as possible and taking the hardest classes I could. I love writing and reading, so I started a blog where I could write for me, not for my future college apps. I still plan on doing summer writing programs and taking advanced placement English courses, and I’m an editor of a literary magazine. These things are good for my future, true, but they’re also activities I actually enjoy.

Forcing myself to run for president of the student council or taking college-level courses in all subjects in hopes of standing out was only going to make high school miserable. Focusing on activities that don’t feel like such a chore has not only made my life less stressful, but it’s also made me more confident in myself. Even though I still have anxiety about getting into college, I’ve figured out a way to make the next three years count—for admissions officers, but more importantly, for me.

By Katherine Williams, 15

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