Tips From the College Counseling Office

Stress-free Approaches to the Application Process

Many students spend their high school career building up to college and feel as though the university they attend will dictate their entire future. This mindset can cause the application process to become extremely stressful. 

For advice on how to alleviate college-induced stress, St. Luke’s college counselors, Ms. Bell and Ms. Veneruso, are here for you. They shared general approaches and strategies to help students reduce stress and find the best school for them.

Ms. Bell said, “I think you need to identify what is the stress and why does it have to be stressful? I think we make it seem like college has to be stressful, but to me the stressful part isn’t the application process.” She explained that, if anything, actually packing up and going to college is the difficult part. 

Ms. Veneruso added, “We also tell people to have fun when they’re looking at schools. It feels like a lot of students treat the process of visiting schools as homework, or something that they have to do…You’re finding out a lot about yourself when you go on these college visits. You’re finding out about what interests you, what you like, what you don’t like, and that could be really fun if people approach it that way.”

As Ms. Veneruso said, the college process should not consume a student’s high school experience. However, it is important for people to be conscious of the process, even as sophomores. 

Ms. Bell recommends that current tenth graders start looking at simple aspects of colleges, and “just [try] to figure out what’s out there.” One way to do so is by looking at school menus, housing options, or attendance at sporting events. These are aspects of a school which students often overlook, but can help them get started with the process by gaining a better understanding of what they want in a school. 

Ms. Veneruso wants to remind students that sophomore year is not a time for them to be focused on college; instead, they should enjoy high school and gain a better sense of self.

There is a consensus among the college counselors that both sophomores and juniors should take advantage of the time they have in the summer. 

Ms. Veneruso recommends that sophomores take a “practice ACT and a practice SAT the summer after their sophomore year, just to get them acquainted with the two different tests.” Ms. Veneruso added that it would be “low stakes” and “low pressure.”

Ms. Bell believes the summer is a great time to visit schools, even for a sophomore. She suggests that students choose three parts of a school to explore. For example, the student center, the gym, and the surrounding areas. Following this method, students are not “targeting any particular school,” but instead are “just looking for the three things that are most important to [them].” This makes the visiting process more manageable and allows students to get a general sense of each school without stress. 

As for Juniors, the next step is the Common App, and the counselors are ready to help students get a head start over the summer. Specifically, all St. Luke’s college counselors will be available in person or online to answer any questions. 

Ms. Bell recommends that Juniors take advantage of their excess time in the summer and not wait until the fall of Senior year when schoolwork piles up. She said, “just get it done, so that you can have a stress free senior fall semester when it comes to the application process.” Though the Common App will be released on August 1st, essay questions are already available. So, make sure to use the months of June, July, and August to get a head start.

Ms. Veneruso also reminds students to keep an open mind when looking at colleges and debunk any stereotypes about a school. She explains how representatives from over 150 colleges come to visit St. Luke’s and talk about their university each year. 

Ms. Veneruso said, “It was really interesting to see that for some schools we would have to reserve a classroom or a part of the library or a seminar room because so many kids signed up to hear this person speak about a particular college. And then for some, no one signed up.” She wishes that everyone would be unbiased and open-minded when looking at schools to find the best option for them. 

Ms. Bell agrees with Ms. Veneruso, wanting students to refrain from associating schools with certain stereotypes. She said, “I wish people wouldn’t value their worth or their intellect based on the college that they attend. It really means nothing but I think so often, we think it says something about us, and I wish people would look at college as a place to learn, a place to grow, a place to go away to, but not a place that says ‘I’m smart’, because it doesn’t say any of those things.”

Above all, Ms. Bell’s main advice is to be present, enjoy high school, and not fixate on college. Ms. Bell said, “I always say that my job is to make sure that students have the best 2,3,4 years of high school, because I can’t control what college is going to be like, but I can try to control the experience here, and you don’t get this back. It bothers me that so many students spend so much of senior year looking to get out, and they’re the first ones to come back after fall break and they’ll say, ‘Oh I miss this, I miss my friends’. That is because they spend so much of their senior year trying to think about the next step, as opposed to enjoying the now.”

Ultimately, the experts want students to enjoy the now. The college process can be a fun way to learn about yourself; be sure to get ahead this summer to reduce any stress.