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Spring is an exciting time for students to look forward to summer vacation. But for students and families preparing for college, the excitement is often overshadowed by stress. How can families plan ahead to minimize the anxiety and instead focus on the JOY of this exciting process?

The Importance of Managing Stress

Getting college-ready can feel like the only thing that matters right now. But when we spend so much of our energy focusing on a single goal, we can forget to take care of our mental health.

According to Dr. Robert Epstein, MD, 25 percent of our happiness depends on our ability to manage stress. To address this, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests taking preventative measures like planning ahead, prioritizing tasks, and preparing for stressful events.

Gearing up for college is inherently overwhelming for all teens, so getting ahead is a great way to lighten their mental load and let them enjoy the process.

Planning Ahead for the Summer

Spring is the perfect time for students and their families to start planning for the summer.

Summer is a great time to participate in enriching activities, whether jobs, internships, community service projects, or academic/sports camps. Of course, such activities tend to look good on our resumes, but what we often fail to recognize is how students feel about these activities.

Dealing With External Pressures

“Stress, anxiety, and depression are caused when we are living to please others.” —Paulo Coelho

In the case of planning for college, students and families often get caught up in searching for ways to please admissions offices with impressive resumes. As a result, students feel pressured to partake in a lot of activities solely because they and their parents think it will make them look good. But doing things out of obligation almost always creates anxiety — anxiety which, in this case, is unnecessary.

Students will benefit from focusing on doing something of interest, not just to put it on their resume but because they enJOY it. For example, if they like animals, they may choose to volunteer at a local shelter or start their own pet-sitting business. That way, they are not dreading their summer resume-builders but instead look forward to them. And they end up having an experience that enriches them as people rather than just college applicants.

The Psychology of Intrinsic Motivation

When students can look forward to their summer activities, it creates what is called intrinsic motivation — the type of motivation that comes from internal rather than external influence.

Studies show that, when genuinely interested in what we do, we are more motivated to do a good job. Researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that “when students have intrinsic motives for learning, they are more likely to attach meaning to their work, explore new topics, and persist in the face of learning challenges.”

The phenomenon of intrinsic motivation applies to learning outside the classroom. When students applying to college are motivated by their inherent interests rather than external pressures, they are more likely to thrive throughout the process.

The Big Picture

When we treat getting into college as the only thing that matters, we deprive young people of the opportunity to explore what they do and don’t like. It can be easy to forget that college is not about being able to say that you got your degree from a “good” school; it’s about finding ourselves and preparing for the real world. The more we allow young people to explore their interests, the easier time they will have navigating adulthood.

As students plan for the summer, remember it’s the quality of time students spend on activities that really matters not the number of activities they participate in. It can be difficult to uncover the joy in this overwhelming process, but I promise it is there.


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