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Soothing College Anxiety: Coping Strategies for Picking a College

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Choosing a college can be a stressful decision for many high school students, especially when you’re thinking of planning out your next four years. This is the season where high school seniors are constantly asked by anyone who meets them where they are headed to college. Many young people we see in our office feel the weight of selecting just the “right” college, and the stress can mount on top of an already full school and extracurricular load. Fortunately, breaking down the steps and making sure you are taking care of your mental health is key to not only surviving the college decision-making stage but thriving as well.

In this article, our teen counseling team at Dr. Messina & Associates in Flower Mound and Southlake, Texas will explore effective coping strategies for easing college selection stress and making informed decisions.

Comparing College Options

Let’s pretend you just received word that all three of the colleges you applied to have offered you an acceptance. Perhaps you have a couple of months before you have to decide on where you want to attend. Take a deep breath — you’ve got this! First, pat yourself on the back that you have made it through the college application process. The essays, SAT/ACT work, and the grueling application itself are quite a feat in itself. Now, it’s time to start thinking about a decision.

Before you applied, you’ve probably already done the initial legwork of considering location and whether you wanted to go to a public or private college. Now, it’s time to dig in deeper. Your college experience will be shaped by various aspects of your chosen institution, so try to consider which college best aligns with your personal and academic goals.

Identify Your Goals and Values

When choosing a college, it’s important to identify your personal goals and values. Some students we visit with want the pomp and circumstance and fanfare typically associated with large state universities; others enjoy a smaller, more intimate liberal arts college experience. Knowing what you personally enjoy in your daily life will help you align your values with the educational institution you select. Start by asking yourself what you hope to achieve through your college experience and how it fits into your long-term goals. Consider what kind of career you would like to pursue after graduation and whether your chosen institution offers the necessary resources to achieve that goal. By evaluating your personal values and college goals, you’ll be better equipped to choose a college that feels right for you.

Assess the Campus Culture

Some students we know apply to a whole slew of colleges without visiting them first. We don’t recommend this. The only way you can truly assess the culture of a campus is by visiting it — and we suggest spending an ample amount of time at each campus to get a true feel of the student body, the classes, and culture. If you’ve fallen into the camp of already applied before visiting, you still have time. Schedule a formal campus tour or go informally on your own to spend time on the campus. If you can, arrange a time to meet with a professor or staff within your preferred major and ask any questions that will help clarify. By seeing a college in action, you’ll get a sense of whether it’s a place you want to make your home away from home. Our pro tip: don’t visit the campus over spring break or when classes aren’t in session. You need to see the daily, normal rhythm of the school to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Consider Available Extracurriculars

Choosing a college that provides opportunities for both academic success and extracurricular involvement is essential for your emotional well-being. Your engagement on campus, whether you realize it or not, significantly contributes to your overall happiness. We always encourage our students to actively participate and forge connections with new people to avoid feeling isolated away from home. One way to do this is by joining an organization, club or by volunteering.

If an active Greek life is important to you and you aspire to join a fraternity or sorority, understanding which campuses are active in this community is crucial before making your school selection. Alternatively, if you are already involved in student government, athletics, or any other extracurricular pursuits, researching which colleges align with the campus involvement you seek is a prudent step.

Your first year of school will probably feel exhilarating and a bit overwhelming at the same time. This might be the first time you are learning to effectively manage your time, learning to prioritize and establish a manageable schedule without your parent’s input. Don’t hesitate to engage in various activities and take risks; you might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Researching College Rankings

If you’re trying to narrow down your selection, begin utilizing online resources such as college websites, social media pages, and discussion forums to gather general information about the college you’re considering. Rankings and reviews from trusted sources such as U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review can also provide valuable insight into specific academic programs and individual college rankings.

Considering Financial Factors

When it comes to selecting a college, it’s important to consider financial factors in your decision-making process. College affordability is a significant consideration for students and their families. However, there are many options available to help make your college experience more affordable.

Scholarships and grants are available to students based on financial need, academic performance, extracurricular activities, and other criteria. Be sure to research and apply for all available financial aid opportunities to help offset the cost of tuition. Even if your family can afford to cover all four years of your college expenses, it is advisable to apply for financial aid. This serves as an initial step in many scholarship application vetting processes, including those that are not need-based.

Another option to consider is attending a community college or in-state public university, as these institutions often have lower tuition costs. Additionally, student loans are available, but it’s important to understand the terms and repayment options before accepting a loan.

By considering these financial factors and exploring your options for financial aid, you can make a more informed decision about selecting a college and potentially alleviate some of the financial stress associated with the college selection process.

Seeking Guidance from Trusted Sources

Choosing your college can be an overwhelming process, but you don’t have to do it alone. Seeking guidance from trusted sources such as college counselors, mentors, teachers, and family members can help you navigate this important decision. These individuals can provide valuable insights and support based on their own experiences and expertise.

Consider seeking counseling support from a trusted Flower Mound or South Lake teen counselor to help you manage the stress and anxiety that often accompany the college selection process. A counselor can offer a safe and confidential space to discuss your concerns, explore your options, and help make informed decisions that align with your goals and values. Therapists accustomed to working with teens, and particularly high school seniors, understand the importance of having an unbiased listener during this process.

Whether you turn to friends and family or seek professional counseling support, remember that you don’t have to go through this alone. Seeking guidance can provide much-needed perspective and help you feel more confident in your decision-making process.

Managing College Selection Stress

Choosing a college can be overwhelming, and it’s normal to experience stress and anxiety during the decision-making process. However, managing stress healthily is important to make clearer decisions. One effective method is mindfulness — the practice of being fully present and aware of your thoughts and surroundings. Consider taking a few minutes each day to meditate and clear your mind.

Self-care is another important strategy. Take care of your physical and emotional health by getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy meals. Give yourself breaks and indulge in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as reading, hanging out with friends, or spending time outdoors.

Additionally, effective time management can help reduce stress. Break down the college selection process into smaller tasks and prioritize them based on their importance and deadline. Set realistic goals and allow enough time for each task. This can help you feel more in control of the process and prevent procrastination-induced stress.

By practicing these techniques, you can manage college selection stress and make clearer, more confident decisions about your future.

One final word — sometimes students and parents put too much emphasis on picking the right college when in reality, there is always more than one path you can take to reach your goals. By keeping an open mind and being flexible, you can alleviate a lot of stress on yourself.

Need help making big college decisions? We are here to listen and advise.

Selecting a college can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. The experienced counselors at Dr. Messina and Associates in Flower Mound, Texas, are dedicated to providing personalized guidance tailored to your unique needs. Whatever stress you may be experiencing, it is always healthy to share your feelings with someone who understands. Our team is here to provide a listening ear and offer valuable, unbiased insights. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at our Flower Mound or Southlake counseling locations.


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Dr. Michael Messina

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