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Just Breathe: Managing Stress in the College Application Process

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Written by College Coach Guest Authoron July 20th, 2021

Bright Horizons College Coach occasionally features blog posts written by guest authors. You’ll find more information about each guest author in the About the Author section on the blog post.

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by Sai Somboon, former admissions officer at University of Pennsylvania As a college counselor, I’ve worked with all sorts of students: dancers, actors, athletes, computer programmers, debaters, student leaders, and much more. Sometimes the students I counsel feel overwhelmed by the process, and I encourage them to take a moment. We breathe together, collect ourselves, and restart. This simple act can replenish our bodies with air and empower us to concentrate on the awaiting tasks. I find that the practice of mindfulness—whether at the beginning, middle, or end of the process—can empower students to triumph and overcome negative feelings and move towards joy, peace, and calm. You may ask: what’s the connection between mindfulness and the college application process? Isn’t the goal of meditation to take you to a pleasant mental state? Aren’t you supposed to discover a place of calm and peace when you practice mindfulness? How can you find peace when faced with the college application process? The connection is actually quite clear! Wherever you are in the college application process, mindfulness can be a self-caring and self-driven method of reducing stress. Mindfulness is about presence and being in the moment, while acknowledging and embracing an awareness of one’s feelings, thoughts, and emotional and physical states. How can mindfulness help you—the student—with the college admission process? Here are some ideas to consider:
  • Breathe: It sounds simple, but start every task with a long, deep breath. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Repeat this a few times with your eyes closed. Notice your body; is your heart rate slowing down? Are you releasing the tension in your shoulders? Is your neck feeling longer? Are you holding your jaw tight? Can you let go? Slow, intentional breathing can enable you to take ownership of your body and be present during each moment.
  • Accept: The college application process is complex and unpredictable! Acknowledge that fact. Accept it and take the initiative on action items you can control rather than focusing on things you can’t. Embrace the fact that you have many responsibilities, and that you have the agency to take steps to be organized.
  • Initiate: Have you reached out to your school counselor? Have you requested transcripts? Are there interviews to schedule? What are the essay prompts for your college applications? When are the deadlines? Create a to-do list, perhaps by placing all your goals on one spreadsheet; this kind of organization brings many of my students a sense of calm. Let this list be your north star as you progress through the application cycle.
  • Trust: Students, trust in your ability to write essays that share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Trust in your ability to ask questions and request feedback. Trust that you are the only ‘you’ in the world, and that your lived experiences not only matter, but are unique, interesting, and worthy to share.
  • Self-empower: Once you are able to integrate the aforementioned ideas, I encourage you, the student, to empower yourself to make the right choices and decisions. You may not have visited all the schools or attended all the tours and information sessions, but did you do everything else you could to research? Did you read all the details on the college websites? Did you brainstorm ideas for each essay prompt before deciding on the right one? Did you take deep breaths throughout your writing process, or during a virtual interview? If the answers to these questions are a resounding, “Yes!”, then you can be assured that you did everything with intention, joy, and mindfulness. This is your process, your journey, and your adventure. Take charge, ask for feedback, and remember that you are making choices and decisions towards your future.

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