You do a ton of work applying to college— prepping for the SAT, gathering all of your application materials and writing the perfect college admissions essay—so it’s only natural for you to be anxious to hear back as soon as you send it all in, right? Knowing that you won’t be getting that coveted college decision letter until March or April, it’s also pretty natural for you to be going a little crazy waiting for it, too. So how do you keep from completely losing your mind?
We talked to collegiettes who were in your shoes just a few years ago and got the scoop on how to keep sane during this stressful time.
1. Decide whether or not you want to talk about it
Everybody handles the stress of anticipation differently: Some people like to talk through the stress, and some people like to distract themselves and focus on something else. A very important step in waiting on college decision letters is to figure out how you deal with stress.
“I’m kind of an oddball in that I love to talk things out when I’m stressed,” says Melanie Jenkins, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “So even though most of my friends were trying to push this all to the back of their minds, I was reordering my favorite colleges into the ones I’m most likely to get into and other stuff like that.”
A lot of other collegiettes prefer to distract themselves from thinking about college too much.
“If I’d thought too much about college, I think I would’ve lost so much sleep,” says Abby Williams, a junior at Michigan State University. “I knew that since I’d already sent everything in, I had no control over it, so I had to distract myself from thinking too much.”
If you’re more like Melanie and would prefer to talk things out when you’re waiting on these decision letters, that’s okay! Just remember that many other pre-collegiettes, like Abby, would rather not discuss it. Try seeking out other students who want to talk about it all or chatting with your parents and family members. That way, you can still discuss your options as you await the decisions, but you don’t bother others who might not want to do that.
You can figure out who is and isn’t willing to chat about it by delicately beating around the bush about the waiting period. Try saying things like, “Oh man, sent in my last application yesterday… Getting pretty nervous,” or, “April can’t come fast enough.”
If the person you’re talking to seems to perk up or seems receptive to these comments, you can start to push more about talking about college decisions. If he or she seems more disinterested by giving you a vague answer or saying something like, “Well we won’t know for a while, so it’s best to be patient,” you should probably leave the subject alone.
2. Remind your friends and family if you don’t want to talk about it
Like we said, many pre-collegiettes are more like Abby and want to distract themselves from overthinking the situation. But just because you know you don’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean your family does.
“Each week, family would ask me if I'd heard back from the school, and each week I would remind them that the acceptance was not going to come until April no matter how many times they asked me if I'd heard back,” says Lillian Noble, a junior at American University. “Once my family finally understood that talking about college acceptances was stressful for me, they stopped asking.”
Having family members constantly asking you about college decisions is especially stressful because you only want to give them good news, but, like Lillian, until March or April, you won’t have any news to give. Keep their questions at bay by telling them that they’ll be the first people you tell when you find out.
Address this with your family and friends as soon as possible. As soon as all of your applications are sent in, sit down with your family and let them know that you’re nervous about the decisions, and talking about them during the waiting period makes it worse for you. Tell them that you know that this is also an exciting time for them, but ultimately, this is about your future, and you need to handle it in a way that works best for you.
If your loved ones keep on bringing it up afterwards, try to be patient and remind them that you understand that they are only trying to help, but you really need some space from that conversation topic. Say things like, “I know you’re only trying to help, but constantly talking about getting into college is actually hurting me right now. I think we need to wait until the decision letters actually come before we can have this conversation.” Letting your loved ones know that you understand their intentions while also staying firm with your needs is the best way to get smooth and conflict-free solutions to this problem.
3. Pick up a new hobby
One of the best ways to distract yourself from overthinking is to dive into a new hobby. Since the hobby would be new, you’d more than likely be super excited about it and have a lot to learn. You simply wouldn’t have the time to overthink your college decision letters. Start a blog. Learn how to sew. Learn how to code. Do something.
“When I was waiting to hear back, I decided to get into running,” Melanie says. “It was fun because I started to track how long it took me to run certain distances and was looking at my improvement. It was also good because exercise is such a good way to clear my mind. I thought more about how exhausted I was running than about colleges!”
By getting really invested in something else, you won’t want to think about college—or have the time to. Plus, this could be a great time to uncover a hidden talent or to find a new passion, two things that will really help you pick a major or to get into a certain club or activity once you do get to college.
4. Don’t overhype a certain school
One of the hardest parts of this waiting game is making sure you don’t build up your top schools too much. Overhyping schools means thinking you’ll definitely get accepted, thinking a certain school’s program is the only program suited for you or thinking being accepted into a certain school will make or break your entire life. This is definitely something to avoid doing when waiting on those decision letters.
Iris Goldsztajn, a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles, was very careful not to do this. “I didn't want to jinx it by thinking I'd get in,” she says. “I ended up being genuinely surprised/shocked that I got into UCLA.”
Overhyping a school is something that comes when you start to overthink. When you overthink getting into schools, you begin to idealize them and think that they’re the only option for you, and when you do this, you’re setting yourself up for potential disappointment.
College counselor Nina Wilmot suggests weighing the pros and cons of all of your colleges if you think you’re overhyping one. “Reminding yourself that there are good and bad things about each school you apply to is really important in waiting for college decisions,” she says. “I tell some of my students to literally write out the pros and cons of each school and program. Students should include things from location for internships to co-op opportunities at the school to the environment at the school. Forget about things like big names or minimum accepted GPAs, and concentrate on things that make the school unique.”
5. Channel your energy into extracurriculars or schoolwork
We know that pre-collegiettes are super busy, so maybe you don’t even have to come up with a new hobby to distract yourself from overthinking. Between your clubs, sports and schoolwork, you might not have time to think about college decision letters too much.
That was the situation for Sarah Yu, a student in the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. “I was already busy with lacrosse practices and games, so I didn't have the chance or time to worry about getting accepted or rejected to the seven colleges I applied for,” she says.
Keeping busy doesn’t just include after-school sports, either. Really invest yourself in your schoolwork as a way to stay busy. This is a great way to avoid the senior slump and to show colleges who may be checking in on your second-semester grades that you’re really invested in your schoolwork!
6. Practice yoga or meditation
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to distract yourself, you just can’t. Whenever the stress really builds up, find a proven stress-relieving outlet like yoga or meditation.
“Yoga and meditation are huge de-stressors for me in college, and I can imagine they work really well in high school waiting on those college decisions, too,” says Sarah Watson, a senior at the California Institute of Technology. “I like it because I can’t push stressors out of my life, but yoga gives me an hour where I don’t need to think about them, and it really is calming.”
You don’t need to be a yoga master to try yoga or meditation, either. Download the Pocket Yoga app onto your phone to do yoga on the go, or check out the listings on your TV’s on-demand features for a more thorough workout. Try meditating whenever you worry too much about getting accepted into the right program or receiving enough of a scholarship from a certain school.
7. Use the power of positive thinking
It probably sounds really lame, but positive thinking really does have a lot of power and can make all the difference when college decision letters are getting the best of you and your self-esteem.
Many pre-collegiettes worry about college acceptances because they begin to second-guess whether or not they are good enough to go to their top-choice school. Whenever your negative thoughts are bumming you out, just repeat over and over that you believe in yourself, and if that school doesn’t accept you, you still have the power to be successful. Channel the confidence that drove you to apply to that school in the first place.
Try hanging a poster in your room or locker at school that has your favorite positive-thinking mantra on it—you could even make it the background on your phone so you have it everywhere you go! Allow that mantra to be something you repeat over and over whenever you doubt yourself or whenever you feel like you’re not good enough.
And whenever you stop believing you’re good enough to be accepted into a school, write down a list of five (or more!) things that you know you can contribute to that school. It can be anything—stimulating class participation, being a friendly face for everyone on campus, kicking butt in intramurals or something else. Remember everything you put in your college application to convince the school to accept you, and start believing it yourself!
Remember: Once the applications and test scores are sent in and the interviews are over, there’s nothing more you can do to get yourself into college, so stressing over decision letters isn’t productive. By distracting yourself and concentrating on the here and now, you’ll be sure to have a way more enjoyable spring semester.