Admissions season is stressful for college admission departments, with competition for a shrinking pool of potential students, changes in the application process, and expectations from university administration all adding pressure to the job. High school seniors are trying to keep up their regular schedules while putting effort into essays, collecting recommendation letters, and staying organized in their application process, all with parents breathing down their necks. Plus, the pandemic has made everything in life more nerve-wracking. Now seems like a good time to implement stress-reduction techniques for individuals and whole departments to help tone down the angst for a more productive and satisfying admissions process.
Organization Promotes Calm
Part of the stress of the admissions process comes from the number of unknowns that are a natural part of life. How many students will apply? Will my first choice school accept me? However, school staff and students can manage the impact of unavoidable uncertainty with simple strategies: don’t dwell on the things you can’t control and take charge of what you can control.
Staying organized is key to reducing stress for students, while structuring the process will help admission professionals feel more in control. Writing down and scheduling the tasks that need to be completed—adjusting as necessary when situations change—will help you remain calmer. Keeping all of the details written down or in an app can help you see what you need to accomplished today or this week while assuring you that you have a plan for getting the other tasks completed on time as well. Make sure your schedule is reasonable and accomplishable, as there is nothing like feeling behind to cause more anxiety. Pace yourself and make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of success by organizing the actions that it will take to accomplish your goals, whether it be to recruit students or to finish your college applications.
Communication to Reduce Uncertainty
For the admissions team, communicating effectively and transparently with applicants will help reduce their stress. Students can also communicate with admission staff, such as when a letter of recommendation will arrive late or to check that the complete application has been received. Reducing uncertainty when possible can help to ease your worries. Communicating well with students, families, staff, and administration can keep everyone aware of the current situation, actions taken, timetables for information to be released, and expectations for acceptance numbers. Communication is essential during the uncertainty of a pandemic, but there are always changes happening in higher education, so communicating clearly and in a timely fashion is a good practice anyway.
Extra Support for Students Who Need It
The decline in applications during the pandemic was highest among students who requested fee waivers and who are the first in their families to go to college. Lower-income students often have less support from teachers and family, making the journey more demanding for the students. Making the extra effort to shepherd them through the process can also help reduce the inequities in the higher education system. Providing additional services from the college will remind these students that they are wanted and welcomed into the college community. Just because a potential student needs more help to get through the unfamiliar—and stressful—process of applying to schools does not mean that they won’t end up being a great addition to your student body and, later, to your alumni community.
Reducing the inequality in the system needs to happen at every stage in the education process by using good communication, flexibility, and support services to help bridge the gap for underserved individuals. For example, many schools have extended registration deadlines, made standard test scores optional, and increased financial aid to help get students in the door. Any institutional efforts that can help stem the attrition in applications from more vulnerable students will also help keep admissions numbers as strong as possible, which reduces stress. Admissions departments want to get more students in, and with more effort, it is possible to diminish anxieties for both the applicants and the staff who seek to fill seats.
Dialing Down the Pressure All-Around
All the stress-relieving techniques that work in other situations can work for individual students making their way through the admissions process: relaxing activities, setting goals and priorities, staying connected with people for moral and practical support, and getting perspective on the process. Staff should practice self-care, as we have all learned during the strains of a global pandemic.
Stress is not always bad, as it can drive people to do their best. But feeling like the process has an all-or-nothing outcome isn’t beneficial for anyone. While students may get their hopes up for a specific college and admissions staff may have their goals set on a particular number, the reality is that many outcomes are workable. We make goals to work towards them, yet getting closer is good, even if you don’t fully realize your dreams. We need to dial down the push for perfection and remember that we can all make the best of any situation, overcome hurdles, and work with the results that we get. By changing our mindset towards doing our best each step of the way while taking a breath to help us adapt to a new world, we can find our way through the stresses of admissions with less anxiety and more satisfaction.
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