Handling Stress in Your College Search

With so many colleges to choose from, finding the perfect one for you may seem impossible. No matter where you are in the college search process, you may feel super stressed. Here are some steps to reduce stress in the college search and channel it into something positive!

Avoid drinking caffeine

Drinking more caffeine than you are used to affects your nervous system increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Trade your coffee mug for a (reusable) water bottle to keep you calm and productive.

Exercise

When the college search has got you fatigued, get your body moving. Seems counterintuitive? Well, as it turns out, exercise improves your cognitive function including alertness and concentration. Time and time again, studies reveal that exercise reduces stress.

Keep a stress diary

Write an entry in your notebook every day about your stress with the college process. It will make it easier for you to reflect and pinpoint your struggles. You may gain a new perspective and relax knowing that some parts of this process are beyond your control.

Try relaxation techniques

Whether it be painting a masterpiece or practicing yoga poses, set aside some time for an activity that relaxes you. Instead of watching Netflix in your bed, consider an interest that sparks your creativity.

Go to bed earlier

Obtaining a consistent sleep schedule can improve your health in numerous ways. Catching a few extra Z’s will sharpen your memory, rejuvenate your attention span, and alleviate the tensions you feel every day. It may even help reduce the anxiety of the college search process. 

Talk to someone

There are plenty of people who care for you and want to see you succeed! This includes your friends, parents, teachers, and school counselor. So go on, and get your fears off your chest! They will be the first to tell you that it’s completely normal to worry about your future.

Whatever your plans may be for the future, relish in the fact that everybody’s journey looks different. It’s okay to stress during the college search, but trust that your hard work will lead you to where you are meant to be. Everything will be okay.

Supporting Your Student In Determining If College Is Right for Them

You want what is best for your student. You might also be feeling overwhelmed by what life after high school holds for them and what your influence in that time will (or should) be. We’re here to help break this down into steps so that you feel empowered and able to be an important influencer in these conversations. A good first step is to talk about if college is the right path for them after high school. Here are five questions that can help you participate in that conversation:

What is college?

Popular culture often showcases a monolith experience of college, but the reality is that there are so many choices. Overall, college is any degree-earning formal education after high school. Depending on the type of college, the experience might be different but the results are the same types of credentials.

What are the types of colleges?

There are more than 4,000 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the United States. That can feel overwhelming, but there are some key-types of institutions that these can be sorted into. Typically, we would sort institutions by types of credential offered. A community and/or technical college will offer Certificates and Associates (or “a two-year degree”). There are also 4-year institutions that offer Bachelor’s degrees, often in addition to Associate’s degrees. Layered within this, there are also institutions tailored to serve certain demographics of students: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), or Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).  The ways we can segment schools can go on and on – based on size, location, funding sources, and more – but starting with type of degree and type of community served can help narrow the conversation in meaningful ways.

What college is needed for your student’s career goals?

If your student searches “degrees needed for [insert job or field of interest]”, the search will likely return a level of education or credential type. Knowing if and what level of education is important for a career field is important as your student embarks on their self-exploration for their future. A Certificate or Associates is typically more narrowly focused on a job or industry. A Bachelor’s allows one to gain specific field knowledge while also building your general education knowledge to help one be well-rounded. Certain professions will also call for an advanced degree like a Master’s or Doctorate, and most often cannot be earned until a Bachelor’s is completed.

What lifestyle does your student want to lead?

This is a big question, but also an important one to think about. Support your student as they envision their adult life. This will help them think about the lifestyle they hope to have and the degree needed to obtain that lifestyle. Your voice in this conversation is valuable because you have  lived experience to share. As a family member or mentor, speak of your own experience making big decisions. What do you value in your own lifestyle? How did you make decisions about it? Even if you wished you did things differently, that is still useful wisdom for your student. 

How does college fit into that lifestyle?

College – the time and money spent there – is a true investment in self and one’s future. College degree holders earn more over a lifetime than those that do not, but life is more than salary. A degree after high school can help advance career, impact lifestyle, and support goals.

There are many pathways to the same end goal, and if college can support your student in that journey, it should be strongly considered. As a family member or mentor to your student, you are poised to share your lived experience as it relates to your after high school journey. Don’t forget! Encourage is here to support you as you support their college and career planning! Encourage your student to download the app!

Supporting Your Student in Finding Their Fit

As your student navigates through the college process, it is important for them to keep match and fit in mind. For the sake of clarity, when we talk about match, we are referring to academic factors. And when we discuss fit, that’s based off non-academic factors. Both build an ecosystem of support and success for a student to not only enroll in college, but also graduate successfully.

Finding fit typically comes after the student has narrowed a college list to include schools that are matches for them. Fit factors include the non-academic pieces that are important to students and their experience in college. Here are some guiding questions that you can use with your student so you can support of process of your student finding their fit:

What do you want from a college experience?

Discuss what is motivating your student to attend college. This conversation will clarify their desires for their college experience. Do they dream of the college experience that media portrays? Do they want a smaller, more personalized experience? Are certain types of divisions of athletics important? There are many ways to cross-sector this, but this should be a fun conversation talking about their dreams of the college experience.

What do you need from a college experience?

Remind your student to think “is this college ready for me?”. Depending on your student, they should seek schools that meet their needs when it comes to academic and non-academic support. Encourage them to reflect on the types of services that may support their success in college. Feel free to engage with college admission offices to understand on-campus offerings.

What type of community are you seeking?

Wants and needs begin to build a picture of the type of college community. You can segment school communities in so many ways for students. This includes schools founded to serve certain demographics of students. For example, HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs, women’s colleges, and religiously affiliated campuses. A student should also consider what they hope for as it relates to the types of students that attend the schools being considered. A college community will ideally surround your student for 2 or 4 years depending on the degree being sought.

What is your financial situation to ensure the college is affordable?

College is an investment, but one worth making in a smart way. It is important for your student to reflect on their financial situation when considering affordability. While you might not know every piece of what a college will offer you, a college’s cost calculator can start to build a picture of affordability for you. Also, insider tip: it is not always true that your final cost at a private school will be more expensive than a public school. So, don’t discount any school type based on what you believe to be true about the affordability. Typically, the lowest tuition rates will be at community and technical colleges. Meanwhile, the highest will be private schools. Remember that the types of financial aid and scholarships offered at these schools vary widely. Do the research so you can make an informed choice!

What is the importance of different factors?

Not every factor that we discussed will have equal weight. Encourage your student to consider what is most-to-least important and understand what is non-negotiable. This can look different for every student, but ultimately will support the student in finalizing a great college application list and making a final selection following admission decisions.

As your student’s family member or mentor, you know your student well and have context to help them in this self-exploration and decision making. Within Encourage, your student can explore key characteristics of college like size, location, and majors and  understand important financial aspects of the experience like the cost of tuition, room and board, and other expenses. 

Taking a Gap Year During the Pandemic

There are many reasons students are postponing their college plans and taking a gap year during the pandemic. For some, college is simply too costly to take on at this point in time. Others hope to wait until they can attend college courses in person rather than continue with virtual learning. If you are taking some time off from your studies, make the most of your gap year with these tips. 

Make it intentional

If you plan to take a gap year during the pandemic, think about the goals you’d like to achieve during that time. Are you hoping to explore a certain interest or industry? Are you looking to save money for college? There are lots of options to consider including volunteer work in your local community or virtual volunteering. You can also create a LinkedIn profile to search for internship opportunities or project-based work. To make your gap year worthwhile, view it as an opportunity to take small steps towards your goals.

Consider the risks 

You may find that the opportunities associated with taking a gap year look different due to the spread of COVID-19. This includes limitations on international travel and slim internship and job prospects for those with a high school diploma. You may run the risk of falling behind or losing motivation to return to school. Understanding these risks will help you make informed decisions about how you spend your gap year.

Check your mindset

Sometimes students mistake gap years as extended summer vacations. If you’re hoping to take a gap year as a way to stay home and do nothing, you likely won’t experience the benefits of a gap year. Resting and taking care of yourself is important during the pandemic, but you want to make sure your decisions are setting you up for success in the future. It is possible to use the year to your advantage, but you’re going to have to put forth some effort to make that happen. 

Ask for advice

If you’re not sure if a gap year is the right path for you, feel free to talk it through with your high school counselor, parents, families, guardians, or mentors. They will be able to help you evaluate your options and build a plan to hold you accountable. They can also assist you in contacting colleges to check their policies on deferment. Many schools allow you to defer for a year, and others may have you reapply. 

Keep an open mind

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to take a break from your studies. Taking a gap year is as productive as you make it. With so many changes happening in the world, you can take this chance to be creative in the way you spend your gap year!