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5 Tips To Handle College Decision Stress!

Dr. Joel Ingersoll

President, Take On College

· Parenting,College,High School

For high school seniors and their parents, this time of year can be overwhelming!

Parent: "Hey Joel.. Ok, my high school senior daughter is freaking out, doesn't know where to go to college, and already wants to change her major. Thought she wanted to be a teacher but now isn't sure. Any advice? What should I say? How do I help her? You deal with this kind of thing right?"

Dr Joel: "This time of year, all the time."

College decision day is fast approaching and anxiety is peaking among high school seniors. As a bonus, anxiety gets further triggered by viewing posts on friends' social media pages celebrating college acceptances.

Few things challenge parents more than seeing their child struggle with any kind of pain. Unfortunately sometimes decisions intended to help a child are not received well by the child. Honestly, I dread taking my daughter for her annual round of shots. In that moment, she's not thinking, "Thanks dad, you're such a great guy for making sure I don't squirm around so I can get a shot that's going to hurt like hell."

Even when kids get older there are times for parents to make decisions because kids aren't making sound choices. Adolescence brings many moments when parent decisions counters their kid's perspective. Naturally, conflict (a really nice term to describe it) occurs and challenges family dynamics.

To illustrate, I frequently consult with parents concerned about adolescent alcohol and drug use. Parents recognize a clear pattern of problematic behavior and often decide to seek counseling. Kids think parents are crazy and "have no idea that other kids are doing way more serious stuff." Do you know how many times I've heard, "Dr. Joel, they don't get it, weed isn't a drug, it's a plant."

What about those mixed messages?

Parent: "One minute she needs me, the next minute she treats me like a stranger."

This description of a mom's relationship with her college bound daughter is classic of the push-pull dynamic with an adolescent. How often have you been needed to be a sounding board one moment then told "Forget it, you have no idea what I'm talking about." Parents are often confused and left to figure out how and when to help.

In making college decisions, parents (and child) benefit from a different approach. Parents that become coaches or "strategic partners" with their kid create a collaborative, working relationship. Coaches are not all knowing agents and do not tell clients how to live their lives.  

Be aware! During critical decision moments filled with anxiety parents often face a dilemma. The impulse to fix is incredibly strong. Thousands of parents supporting their high school seniors during college decision season go through this for months!

In the midst of college decision stress are major OPPORTUNITIES for student personal development. High school students that recognize this and take action now will have a huge advantage in their college transition. Trust that there is incredible empowerment gained when adolescents begin to create and execute their own solutions to personal challenges.

When I coach students, we focus on critical college and career success skills (Click here for details!) The more "Self-Awareness" skills developed, the better!

Parent-coaches: Get started with these key tips and pass them along to your awesome student!

1. Normalize the anxiety. One of the many personal development areas I emphasize with students is increasing coping confidence during stressful times and succeeding during adverse circumstances. Their current state of stress is normal, learning to recognize, label it, and activate coping skills is a key formula. Most high school students have never been required to make so many life decisions in a short period of time. The path to normalizing starts with labeling anxiety as "a normal part of this process."

2. Practice strength training. No, I do not mean weight training in a gym. With each coaching client we start here, identifying and developing daily reminders of personal strengths. Too often students minimize their abilities to problem solve and initiate action in the midst of increasing stress. This leads to discouragement, self-doubt, and a dip in self-confidence. This is a great time to develop personal resilience or bouncing forward during challenging moments. By the way, this is something we cover in my College Success Academy Summer Intensive! Students will require this skill for college, career, and life success and fulfillment.

3. Prioritize self-care. There's a disturbing relationship between increased stress and self-care: When stress increases, self-care decreases. The excuses among students for lack of self-care and stress management include: "I don't have time." "Maybe when the semester is over." "It's too cold to walk to the gym." "I'm so tired." Bottom line, prioritizing physical and mental health are the foundation to peak performance. Parents, coaching/advising/mentoring starts with modeling so we need to do it and not just encourage it.

4. Define your college experience. In my work with students and parents I challenge them to take charge and begin "Defining." Students committed to this are immediately connected to a successful and fulfilling college experience. Too often students allow their experience to be defined by others. Whether it's by listening to an opinion like, "You should major in this..." or believing that only by attending a specific college will make you successful: "If I don't go to Cornell, I'll never get a good job." Practice thinking and believing that YOU are in control of your success and happiness, no matter where you attend college! Commit to putting your personal stamp on the college experience and the rewards will be yours!

5. Assess and adjust. This is a big one here, a mega critical skill. Develop the ability to step back, assess your approach to school and lifestyle, then make adjustments aligned with success. Most often peak performance of any kind (school, sports, career) depends heavily on our lifestyle choices. Even if you haven't achieved the grades you wanted in high school, take time now to assess and adjust. Practice the assess and adjust approach every few weeks for the remainder of high school, into summer, and through college!

Bonus Tip! I'm running an awesome summer workshop: The College Success Academy 2017 Summer Virtual Intensive. One lucky winner will attend for free!

As always, we welcome your feedback, questions, or topic suggestions!

Dr. Joel Ingersoll, Ph.D., CMC helps college and high school students develop college and career success skills. As President & Founder of Take On College, Dr. Joel has empowered thousands of students to maximize their potential, college experience and return on tuition. Dr. Joel is the author of the forthcoming book Take On College: Winning Strategies for College & Career Success! Sign up for helpful tips, articles, & resources!

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