Did applying to colleges make you more stressed than the thought of getting rejection letters?

By Maxine Seya

Did applying to colleges make you more stressed than the thought of getting rejection letters?

– Letta, a college applicant

Not really. I went to a public high school where kids went to SAT boot camps in the summer and pulled all nighters to set the test curve.

Some of my classmates’ parents hired college counsultants or private test prep tutors. I, on the other hand, figured it out on my own.

I felt the stressful vibe around me and wanted to make sure this process wasn’t stressful for me. I don’t like stress. Who does?

Looking back, I kept my college app process stress-free by doing these four things:

1. Writing my essays myself without others’ input and not spending too much time on them

While I don’t always recommend this to others, I was a strong-headed high schooler who didn’t want to be influenced by others — probably because I knew I was impressionable and eager to please. I submitted my college essays without letting others (parents, teachers, peers, etc.) give feedback because I didn’t want my authenticity tainted by their questions and suggestions, though likely innocent. Without the mixed opinions of the people around me, I felt freer to express myself without needing to please them, and consequently, less stressed.

Not spending too much time on my essays also helped me put a stop to a never-ending process. Like any form of art, essays can continuously be modified and revised. But like art, there’s rarely a clear line defining when it’s good enough for admissions officers and when it needs more work. At some point, we’ve just got to believe in ourselves, stop working on them, and submit with confidence. I probably spent a total of just one day on my essays. I stopped when I felt happy with what I read.

2. Applying to one school at a time

One deadline at a time, I told myself. I applied to just one school during the Early round: Northwestern. If I didn’t get into Northwestern, I reminded myself that I’d learn by mid-December and I would have still had time to apply RD during winter break. I didn’t start working on RD apps because I saw it as a step-by-step process. I’d only need to apply to other schools if I didn’t get into Northwestern ED, so I waited until hearing back before starting my RD apps. Giving myself this doable goal of applying to just one college by 11/1 helped me feel like my workload was manageable.

3. Applying to schools I felt like wanted me.

When I was researching schools, I started getting a sense of which ones would be excited about me.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.