Facing a New School Year with Less Stress During a Pandemic

As a former high school counselor, I know the start of a new school year is exciting. The journey toward college and the future can, however, cause some apprehension under the best of circumstances. This year, with all the unknowns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, there is a heightened sense of anxiety among juniors and seniors especially. But if you and your family are healthy, there are things you can do to relieve some stress and still propel yourself toward your post-graduation goals.

Take a look at your GPA and level of courses. Do what you can to strengthen your grades and take the most rigorous courses you can handle. Try to make an impact on your classes, even if they are virtual. Perhaps you could form study groups with friends to make the learning more fun.

For seniors, take a look at your preliminary list of colleges. Maybe you would consider broadening your search if the pandemic has potentially shifted your focus and priorities. Do you want or need to be closer to home? There are likely colleges within a drive of a few hours that may not have popped up on your radar before. Have your family finances changed? Look beyond the “bumper sticker” schools for those that meet your needs. There are literally thousands of great colleges out there, and some may better suit your current situation.

Once you have a working list of college considerations, be sure you are “demonstrating interest.” Many colleges care about how you communicate with them. Are you attending virtual chats, info sessions, and tours? Did you sign up for an interview? I often equate demonstrating interest with dating: If you are interested in someone but never talk or communicate with them, how will they know you like them? Some colleges are like that. They want to accept students who are more likely to say yes if admitted. Engage with colleges you like and you could get a bump in their admission process.

There is nothing hard about applying to college, but it does take a long time to do it right. Seniors should start working on college essays. Don’t write about the pandemic in your main essay. If you want to talk about the pandemic, there is a new space in the Common Application for you to use.

If it’s appropriate for your circumstances, try to positively impact your home, school, or community. Doing something to lend a hand will make you feel good and will often reduce stress.

Most importantly, take care of you. Get enough sleep, try to exercise, and eat as healthfully as possible. Taking care of your body will support your mind and mental health. This will go a long way in preparing for a bright future.

NACAC member Jill Madenberg is an independent college consultant based in Lake Success, New York. She is also the co-author of Love the Journey to College: Guidance from an Admissions Consultant and Her Daughter.