Why Your High School Senior Is So Stressed Right Now

There may be times for many of us throughout this college admissions process when we don’t think we’ll all survive. Parents are anxious, students are stressed and sometimes downright sullen, and admissions personnel are overwhelmed. It seems as though the stress has increased in recent years – especially for high school students. We’ve created an achievement culture where students begin earlier and earlier to plan for, and work toward, college admission. Is it any wonder that everyone is feeling out of control by the second half of senior year?

For high school students especially, the tension and stress at this time of year may often feel overwhelming. But, although the stress of waiting to hear about getting in to college is very real, it is not the only factor creating the anxiety at this time of year. Here are six factors that may be affecting your student’s feelings.

  • Fear of rejection – This is the obvious worry that most seniors feel if they haven’t yet heard from colleges. Students worry about being rejected by their first choice college, but they may also worry about being accepted to any college at all. They have spent years working toward this moment and it comes down to knowing that someone wants them. Although there are a myriad of factors that go into an acceptance decision, students may feel the decision is personal. If they are rejected, there is something wrong with them.
  • Fear of the decision – Once students are accepted – especially if they are accepted at multiple colleges, they will need to make a decision about which school to attend. Although this may seem like an enviable position, it puts the pressure back on the student. Will he make the right decision? Is there just one, perfect, place for him? What if he makes the wrong decision? Everyone is asking, everyone is waiting, and everyone will have an opinion once he decides. The May 1 deadline is looming.
  • Fear of leaving home – Although your soon-to-be college student may be looking forward to getting away and excited about starting a new life at college, she is likely also at least a little concerned about leaving family behind. What will life be like without family present every day? What will be happening at home, within the family, while she is away? Will she be able to manage on her own, without her ever-present support system?
  • Fear of finances – Whether or not you have had explicit conversations with your student about finances, she knows how expensive college is. She will most likely have student loans that she knows she will need to repay once she graduates. She may be worried about her ability or the family’s ability to pay for all four years of her education. She may be worried about daily expenses while she is living away. Many of today’s college students worry a lot about money.
  • Fear of abilities – Many college students feel, at some point or another, as though the college has probably made a mistake by admitting them and that they will not be able to do the work. Students have heard the message for years that college work is different from high school work, and that college is hard. Your student may worry that he will not be able to succeed academically. He may worry about grades, workload, professors, and choice of major or career. He may worry about whether or not he is good enough and whether he will be able to do the work.
  • Fear of the unknown – College is different from high school. Living away from home is different from living at home. Sharing a room with a roommate is new for most students. Making all new friends may not be something that your student has had to do recently. Your student knows that his life will be different, but he cannot quite envision it. He doesn’t know what the experience will be like, what it will feel like. He doesn’t know whether he will make friends, or succeed in the classroom, or like his roommate, or enjoy living in the dorm, or find interesting activities. He doesn’t know what new experiences he may face, or what peer pressure he may experience. It is all unknown. The unknown can be an exciting adventure, and your student hopes for that, but it is still the scary unknown.

Students in their last half of senior year of high school may have all or some of these fears causing their stress. Many students who are experiencing these fears may not even realize that they exist or are affecting their lives. It is important that parents give students space and time, and that parents be patient. But it may also be important to talk to your student about his feelings and help him to realize what is causing his stress. Once he thinks about, and perhaps talks about, some of these issues, and once he realizes that he is not alone in his concerns, he may be better able to deal with them.

As parents, we also need to face the fact that we, too, have many of these fears for our student. Don’t be afraid to share your fears and concerns – and your excitement and hopes – with your student.