The End, Maybe, of Apocalyptic Thinking

The Crabby Counselor calmly tackles the stress of applying to college.

Kids, kids, kids: Crabby knows this is a tough time all over for you. Senior year, big plans, all those socially awkward moments and photos you’ll be hiding from your own children in twenty years…But, still–applying to college shouldn’t be a full-time job, and it shouldn’t distract you from dating, playing Hellfire 3, or, perhaps, doing your homework. In fact, if college applications are taking up too much time, you’re doing them wrong, as far as he’s concerned. And if you’re sitting here complaining about them, well, that’s just time wasted, isn’t it?

Not that Crabby’s unsympathetic or doesn’t like talking to you. He really does. No, honest. He just wants you to think about what you’re saying and doing and the time you’re spending saying and doing it. If you have a particular college-y question and you want my help, we can spend as much time as you need, but free-floating anxiety needs to be anchored and dealt with. So stop thinking apocalyptically, take a deep breath, and deal with one thing at a time.

Lots of people and organizations are invested in telling you it’s all stress, all the time, and that you need to have the planning skills of a General Patton (quick, which war??) or James Cameron to make everything work, but you don’t. In fact, you can wrap up college planning in the summer before senior year starts and finish up applications before the end of September if you really want to.  (Oh, OK, October.) Maybe not to specific colleges, but certainly you can get the mechanics and the essay out of the way using the Common Application, for example. Now stop laughing bitterly–I’m serious! Put down the #2 pencil, brew some Tension Tamer tea, and relax for a minute as Crabby spells it out for you, Zen-like.

Let’s admit first off that there’s a little bit of competitive stress going on between you and your peers. It’s a weird kind of one-upmanship, isn’t it? Take away your friends and what would be the point of complaining about how stressed out you are? If you don’t complain it seems like you’re not doing anything. And of course you are, aren’t you? Look at any application. Lots of boxes, some things you have to look up, that sort of thing. Do a few a day or take a Saturday morning and you’re done before you know it. But being able to say, “My god, I can’t believe I have to do all these applications!” loudly in the cafeteria puts you a little higher on the “Wow, she must be really ambitious and higher status than I am!” scale, don’t you think?

So stop talking to everyone and comparing where they are in their own process. You know, Crabby had one student who claimed she had applied to eight colleges but hadn’t really done anything at all. And he didn’t learn about it until February of her senior year (sly girl!). After being revived with a bucket of cold water he managed to help her to a berth at a quite respectable institution. This is not a course of action Crabby recommends, particularly the “keeping your counselor in the dark” kind. But everyone has his or her own speed and there’s no need to race. Unless you’re applying to schools with “rolling” admission policies or super-secret “priority deadlines, it doesn’t matter whether you apply six weeks or six minutes before the deadline. So just do it at your own pace. You’ll be fine. And there are colleges, real, respectable colleges, whose deadlines come relatively late in the school year. March, even. (Please, no! At least tell your counselor first, OK?)

Of course you do have to bug your teachers and counselor to get their recommendations and school reports and your transcript in, but colleges allow for adult sloth to a certain extent–as long as your stuff is in, you’re covered! Be careful, though, if you ask one of the popular teachers to write for you. He or she will probably have a lot to do, so ask early, be extra nice, and don’t be a pest. Especially the last. But once you’ve asked and provided the forms, you’re done.

Crabby used to hate waiting for the light to change before crossing the street. It seemed like an eternity, and when there were no cars coming, well…Then one day he decided to time the light. It was all of 26 seconds! Definitely not a very long time, and nothing to get run over about. Same with you and applications. If you sit down and really think about the time needed to do them, it’s not that much, especially compared with everything else you’re doing that is probably a lot more fun and productive. Just doing them will get you across the street in plenty of time, as it were. Give yourself an hour at a time, a specific amount, then do what you can in that time. Repeat as needed, but always have a definite time limit. Then go watch a supernatural romantic comedy or exploding fantasy thriller.

Speaking of which, if you find yourself doing applications at the expense of homework, extracurriculars, family life, and other things you need to do or enjoy, take a few steps back and think about priorities. Sure the apps are important, but if they become another activity, you’re kind of missing the point, aren’t you? You wouldn’t want to fill in a senior year activity box with “Doing college applications, 6 hrs./week,” do you? Makes you sound kind of dull or OCD. Narcissistic, even.

The point is, keep your college applications in the background. Sure, they’ll take some time, as will the college exploration process. But weave them into the normal business of life; don’t let ’em dominate you. It’s fun to look at different colleges and imagine yourself on their campuses. Enjoy that, because you’re a kid in a candy store right now. Crabby can be slightly less crabby helping you discover those places. And yes, he really does like talking with you. But he’d rather talk about your ambitions and your hopes or your new puppy or prom than about your stress. That only makes things worse. In fact, talking about that puppy might be more helpful.