September 28, 2021

College Admission Anxiety

We’ve all heard about the scandals. Famous parents paying exorbitant sums to get their kid into that school. Shattered futures. Jail time. The narrative is hard to escape—getting into college has become a blood-sport. 

It is more than understandable that parents want the best for their kids. When prior generations went to college, the competition was nothing like it is today. First, there were fewer people on the planet. Second, the population was much less sophisticated. Teens graduating from high school often went on to community college, only contemplating university much later. It was a simpler time. (At least, as far as college admission was concerned.) And times have changed. Teens now find themselves enrolled in standardized test prep, college counseling, and a slew of extracurriculars to help them stand out from the crowd. This, in addition to a full schedule of high school classes as advanced as they can handle.

But there is a toll taken for all this madness: college admission anxiety is higher than ever. 

If you are concerned about your teen’s college admission anxiety, you are not alone. And despite what you may think, you can make a difference in how your child is feeling. The answer is to swim against the frantic tide of our high-achieving society—and choose, instead, the health of your teen. 

Easier said than done, Doctor. I can hear you saying it. But it really isn’t that hard. Here are a few tips for helping your child navigate the college admissions madness all around us.  

1. Offer Perspective

Your daughter is up all night crying about getting into Harvard. Your son can’t stop thinking about UCLA. You want to help them, but you don’t know how. Well, here’s one way: talk about the important things in life. On your deathbed, will you be singing your college anthem? No. You’ll be hugging the people you love. And how about sharing another narrative: that of the many successful people in their life who did not go to a dream school. I’m sure you can think of a wealthy uncle who didn’t finish college. Or a cousin who started his own business with an associate degree from a community school. Maybe you yourself went to a less prestigious college, or barely graduated high school. And if everyone in your family is a triple-Ivy professional, there are plenty of high-profile examples. Ever heard of Ted Turner? (They probably haven’t.) The billionaire media mogul founded Turner Broadcasting Company and built a net worth of $2.2B. He was kicked out of Brown. Has your fabulous fashionista heard of Anna Wintour? Didn’t go to college at all. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College after one semester. Need I go on?

2. Tell Them You’re Proud

When experiencing college admission anxiety, the best thing you can do is tell them you’re proud. If your teen thinks they are doing any of this to impress you, put a cork in it right there. They need to know you love them and are proud of them no matter what. I can’t emphasize this enough. Your expectations should have no role in your teen’s life trajectory. Your encouragement? Sure. Your inspiration? Absolutely. Your expectations? Nope. Self-motivated people build buildings, launch start-ups, and write novels. People who are doing it for their parents just run up six-figure therapy bills. Trust me. I would know.

3. Support Their Journey

You open up your daughter’s desk drawer and find a brochure for cosmetology school. Your son suddenly reveals that he wants to build motorcycles for a living. Or—and I see a lot of this lately—your teen wants to go to college in a foreign country, far away from you. Guess what your job is here as the parent? That’s right. Support their journey. They’re going to do what they’re going to do anyway. Don’t you do the same? Unconditional support at this critical juncture will be in your child’s heart and memory for the rest of their life. Don’t miss this opportunity to show up for them. You’ll be glad you did.

4. Get Help 

If your teen is exhibiting signs of depression, suicidality, clinical anxiety, or exhaustion, get help. A check-in or series of sessions with a therapist can go a long way—particularly because some teens may not feel comfortable discussing their feelings with the adults in their lives. If you’re concerned, don’t wait. Help is always here for the taking.