As senior year approaches and college application deadlines loom on the horizon, it can become extremely difficult to tackle your school work, extracurriculars, and family responsibilities while applying to college. During this stressful period, it is important not to allow self-care to take a back seat as you pursue your dream school.
In this article, you will find some tips to help you remain as happy and healthy as possible until those decision letters hit your mailbox during the spring semester.
Get Some Zzzs
Perhaps the most crucial bit of advice for college apps season and high school in general is to sleep. Scientifically, teenagers need at least nine hours of sleep in order to remain healthy and alert. However, you’re lucky if you get seven hours in during more high-stress periods of your academic career, like applications season.
Not getting some much needed rest can impact your cognitive abilities, resulting in problems with attention, memory, and reaction time. These side effects will in turn drive down your academic performance at a time when your grades are crucial to your success.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. Between homework, extracurricular obligations, and the newly added stress of crafting your college essays, there are simply not enough hours in the day to get sufficient rest.
From a survivor of high school’s craziest year (and three years of college finals to boot), I have one word for you: naps. Never underestimate the power of naptime. A half-hour afternoon nap can work wonders for your body, leaving you more refreshed and recharged than a pot of coffee ever will. Before you go off to college, you should learn to appreciate what the pre-school you detested most, nap time. In an ideal world, you would have the time to sleep for nine hours each night; in our world, you have naps.
Keep Track of Deadlines
One foolproof way to drive up your stress levels is to leave things until the last minute. With an undoubtedly challenging course load during your last year of high school, it is easy to put off the college applications process indefinitely. You will then find yourself scrambling to write 10+ college essays in two weeks mid-December while overwhelmed with mid-year assignments.
The best way to take care of the stressed-out future you is to plan ahead and keep track of college deadlines. Take a few days this summer to research application requirements and deadlines for all the schools you’re considering applying to. Note both early and regular deadlines in an application of your choice, be it an Excel spreadsheet or a calendar app on your phone. Then set internal deadlines for yourself: rather than leave all applications until the day before they’re due, create a timeline for completing each application over the course of the fall semester and stick to it.
Once you’ve settled on a finalized list of schools and figured out when you hope to complete your applications, go ahead and put in those deadlines in your calendar. This way, you won’t be taken by surprise mid-family vacation after realizing that you forgot to submit a scholarship application to your dream school.
Leave Time for Socializing
When deadlines and assignments pile up, some students choose to cope with the stress by locking themselves from the world for weeks on end, only poking their head out to grab dinner. While this approach can feel efficient at first, it will quickly leave you feeling isolated and burned out. In order to produce your best work, you need to make sure to budget some time to step away from your computer screen and interact with other people.
Hanging out with your peers will remind you that they are facing the same challenges you are and allow to trade coping strategies and simply vent your frustrations. Spending time with your family will demonstrate to you that there is life beyond college applications and that the world will not end with that decision letter. Take some time each day to walk your dog or play with your siblings; you never know, those leisure hours may spark some creativity and help you tackle a challenging essay prompt.
A big part of the college applications process is to show off your individuality and humanity to the admissions committee. It can be hard to demonstrate those qualities if you spend several months stressing out alone in a dark room instead of living your life.
Perhaps the most important self-care tactic in a stressful situation is to give yourself a break. In the words of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle of Parks and Recreation, treat yo’self. Watch an episode of your favorite show, grab some ice cream from your favorite cafe, or set aside some time each day to pursue a hobby. Whatever your go-to activity may be, figure out what relaxes you and put it in your calendar as you would any school obligation.
Always remember that you are not a machine expected to complete intellectually challenging tasks 14 hours per day until you get into college. Taking breaks and adding some joy to your daily life is as much a part of a self-care routine as getting enough sleep or staying home when you have a fever. Mental health is an integral part of wellness, despite what a culture of overachievement surrounding college admissions may lead you to believe.
Of course, you need to be careful not to confuse self-care with procrastination. If you’re spending hours scrolling through social media and neglecting your obligations, you need to reevaluate your definition of self-care. But you can’t push yourself too hard and disregard your emotional and physical needs in hopes that academic success will justify your sacrifices. Burnout and a host of mental health issues are never worth it.
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