Minimize Student Stress This Holiday Season

For students, Thanksgiving and the upcoming December holidays can be a nice break and a time to relax with family. This year may feel even more special as many extended families could not gather last year.

But for seniors, it can be particularly stressful, as they may have already applied to schools and are waiting to hear – or have not yet applied and have that hanging over them.

Since some students are already starting to hear that they are accepted (or not) to their dream school, it can raise the stress level even higher. Keep that in mind as the relatives assemble in person or on family calls. If the tension level is already high, you may want to ask Uncle Fred ahead of time to leave the subject of college out of his questions for your teen.

It’s important to talk to your child and let them know that it will all work out fine, even if they don’t get into a school(s) that they had their heart set on. Try not to let yourself get too attached either to the idea of a particular school. That will come across to your child and will make it even harder if things do not go their way.

Overall, we need to encourage our kids to work as hard as they can in school, spend time on making decisions to apply to schools that are a good fit, and then know that it will all work out for the best.

It may be helpful (when the time is right) to share a story about yourself or another who didn’t get their first choice in buying a house, landing a job, or getting accepted into the school of their choice … but who looked back later, only to realize that their second choice was a better fit.

If your child gets disappointing news, it is good to empathize and let them have a chance to be sad. Then they may need some support to begin feeling good about Plan B. There are numerous great schools that will be a good fit for all of our kids, and it will be easier once your child begins to get excited about the next school on the list.

Most important, our kids should hear loud and clear that a rejection letter is not a commentary on them as a person. It is an opinion based on a paper record of their achievements. As wonderful as we all know our children to be, they simply may not have been what a particular school was looking for in rounding out its class in the coming year.

This is a good time to let our kids know that we think they are great, no matter where they go to college or whatever they choose to do after high school.

All the best for an enjoyable, healthy, and relaxing break with your family over the holidays this year.

What Every Junior Needs to Know

Dear High School Junior,

Congratulations! You’ve worked hard to get here and the end of high school is not too far away.

But it’s a busy year, and if you plan to attend college, it’s an important one. With that in mind, I want to share a few tips to make sure you get off on the right foot.

  1. Work harder at school this year. Your junior year grades will be what colleges see as you apply next fall. You can still have fun, of course, but doing your best this year really matters.
  2. Participate in class, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Come this spring, you will be advised to ask two academic teachers to write your college recommendation letters. Those letters will be much more personal and favorable if your teacher has gotten to know you through your contributions to class discussions. Speaking up in class will get easier as you practice, and you will need this skill in college and in the workplace.
  3. Stay after school for extra help or to attend review sessions before a quiz or test. This will almost always make you better prepared. And, again, it will give your teacher a chance to get to know you and your work ethic.
  4. Work on your study skills, time management, and overall organization. You will need to be proficient in these areas to be a successful student in high school and college. If these areas are difficult, ask your parent(s) to help you find some support, either at school or by hiring an academic coach. If you feel overwhelmed, depressed or regularly anxious, ask a parent to set you up with a counselor to talk things through.
  5. Make sure you are involved in some activities outside of class.  When it comes time to write your essays and participate in college interviews, you’ll want to be able to point to things you have done in addition to your academics. Volunteering, part-time jobs, clubs, sports, the arts, etc., are all valuable in this way. Plus, they can be fun and help you realize your strengths and interests. You do not need to add more activities if you are already involved in meaningful ways. Even one meaningful activity may be the right amount for you.
  6. Decide on your test prep plan. Many of you just took the PSAT. You can arrange to also take a practice ACT and compare the results. Pick one and then decide on your test prep plan. (If you receive accommodations for school testing, talk to school counselors to make sure you have them for these tests too.) Many schools continue to be “Test Optional” for the current application season, meaning that you don’t have to send your test scores. There will likely be some schools that decide to require test scores again in the future. In most cases, it is best to take either the SAT or ACT and see if your scores are strong enough to help your application. It is no longer required to add the optional essay.
  7. Be vigilant about your presence on social media. Schools have access to this and yes, scholarships and even acceptances have been rescinded based on what they have seen on social channels. In short, if you wouldn’t want your grandmother or a future employer to see it, don’t put it out there!
  8. Plan to visit some college campuses this fall to do some window shopping. Do your best to visit local schools of different sizes and locations (city vs suburban vs rural). It is best to see schools that are realistic for you to attend so that you don’t fall in love with a school that is not an option for you.
  9. Sign up to be on the mailing list of colleges in which you are interested. That is the first step in showing your interest. Then make sure you open the emails of the schools you care about (yes, colleges track that!).
  10. Keep an open mind as you put together a list of potential colleges. There are many colleges you may not have heard of that may be a great fit for you. Don’t narrow the field too soon. Do some research – you will be there for four years (at least) – so make sure it’s a good fit!

All my best for a great junior year!

Is Anxiety Getting in the Way of Success?

This time of year, juniors and seniors with plans to attend college are usually feeling some pressure. They know they must do well in school and should participate in extracurricular activities and jobs/internships.

There have been fewer opportunities because of COVID over the past year, and many students feel that everything must be fit in now – and done well. This can often lead to students feeling overwhelmed.

Yes, some stress is helpful, in that it provides motivation to get things done, both in the short- and longer-term. But too much stress (and the anxiety that comes from it) can cause teens to shut down, not integrate new learning, and fail to work productively, even when they have set aside time to complete their homework or college essays. That can lead to a vicious cycle that produces more anxiety.

So, it is important to ask your teen on a regular basis how she is doing. This may be best done at a time you set aside to only concentrate on your child. You may find they are most likely to talk honestly during an enjoyable activity you do together – a walk, shooting baskets in the driveway, cooking, playing ping pong or pool, etc. However you decide to check in, make sure they get the message that you are there to support them and you will be happy with whatever path they choose to take as they move toward adulthood.

Teens often benefit at this point in their lives from also talking with someone other than a parent. For example, you may want to set up a therapist appointment so they have someone else to connect with. Normalize this as a healthy practice that many teens (and adults!) use to keep feeling their best, and not just something that occurs when things are going badly. There are also times when an older sibling, cousin, aunt, etc., can be helpful to check in with your teen.

Here are some additional resources that you and your teens may find helpful:

  • Teen Mental Health. This website provides learning tools on a variety of mental illnesses, videos, and resources for teens.
  • Go Ask Alice! This website contains a large database of questions about a variety of concerns surrounding emotional health and is geared toward young adults.
  • Reach Out. This website provides information on specific mental health disorders, resources to help teens make safe plans when feeling suicidal, and tips on relaxation.

Overall, do your best to recognize that teens – like everyone else – may be feeling more stress than usual at the moment. Do your best to support and reassure them.