This is NOT the way to get your college apps done.
College applications can induce tremendous anxiety in even the most calm, cool and collected of us. The impulse is to strive for perfection for the admissions committee and be super on top of everything. Wanting to assemble a stellar application package is a good thing, but at some point, if you aren’t careful, anxiety can take over and make you nuts, and that won’t help your college apps. Here are some things that, on the surface, seem helpful but can actually make you feel worse during the application process.
1. Gauging your grades, test scores and progress against your friends’.
What did Katie get on her physics test? How about Leo? Are their grades better than mine? Are they applying to Columbia, too? Where else are they applying? I can’t compete with them. I better work harder or else they’ll get in and I won’t. Hold on, there. Take a step back. It isn’t helpful to worry about how everybody else is doing. All you can do is work on your own grades. You can’t control anybody else’s. Don’t waste time and energy worrying how you stack up against the competition. Focus on yourself. (And watch out for Facebook, too. It may start to feel like a place to vent application stress and celebrate application success. That’s cool, but don’t take it too seriously. If you find yourself starting to get stressed out by Facebook, take a breather.)
2. Asking too many people for input on your college essay.
It may seem like a great idea to have your mom, dad, brother, English teacher, guidance counselor, English tutor and best friend all read your college essay and give you feedback. The more input the better, right? WRONG. No piece of writing is ever going to satisfy everybody. If you try to incorporate comments from 10 different people, your essay is going to be a hot mess and you’ll feel pulled in 10 different directions. Pick maybe three folks who you trust and go with their input.
3. Obsessively re-reading your Common App 12 times in a row to check for errors.
You don’t want to make spelling errors and grammatical mistakes on your college application. That’s silly. But reading your work over and over again won’t give you the perspective you need to spot errors. You may want to get it over with and move on. We understand. But being impatient is not productive. Read it over once and then take a break. Come back a few hours later or the next day and read it again with a fresh pair of eyes.
4. Pulling all-nighters to work on your applications.
I’ll be so hardcore with this application, I’ll stay up all night until it gets done. Think again. Unless you’re someone who honestly does his or her best work on zero hours of sleep (pretty much no one), don’t do this. Get your REM cycle in and let yourself have some sweet dreams. Your inner editor and creative thinker will thank you later. Unless, of course, you feel just totally inspired and excited by an essay idea — then go for it. Don’t let anxiety over getting the bugger done be the motivation — that pretty much never produces good work.
5. Devoting yourself to your applications 24/7.
I’m becoming a hermit for the next three months. No extracurriculars. No friends. No exercise. No TV. Just applications from now until January. OK, your dedication is admirable, but you’ll burn out fast with that attitude. Remember that fresh pair of eyes we talked about earlier? How about having a fresh brain? If the only thing on your mind for three months is your applications, you’ll be so attached to them that you won’t be able to revise well. Taking some breaks to feel refreshed will actually help your applications. So stop feeling guilty over watching 20 minutes of TV or grabbing a slice of pizza with your friends on Saturday. It will be OK.
If you can try to keep an eye on how your anxiety is affecting your applications, you’ll be able to keep it in check and bring a more balanced approach to your work. And that, my friends, is how you produce your best work.
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