College applications have a way of generating a competitive atmosphere amongst peers, whether or not those friends are actually applying to the same schools. And most of that competition stems from comparisons: who scored what on the SAT, who’s already completed their Common Application, who has the purported admissions advantage, etc.
Seniors, instead of comparing and competing, what if you selected 2-3 willing friends and formed your own application support group? Choose your cohorts based on their willingness to commit to these five ideals.
1. Come from a place of “We’re in this together.”
The foundation of this support group should be mutual feelings that while the college application process may be stressful, you’re in this together and intend to pull each other through it. When you reframe a stressful experience as a group challenge rather than an individual burden, you’re less likely to feel discouraged and more likely to feel emboldened by the common goal. Commit to each other not to compare, compete, or otherwise turn this into a status competition. You’re in this together now.
2. Leave negativity at the door.
Yes, talking about your stress can help you manage it. But there’s a fine line between vocalizing what’s eating you and serving up heaping portions of negativity. You’re creating this support group specifically to combat, not to invite, negativity. So commit to each other that your discussions about all-things-college won’t be just group gripe sessions. Instead, use your conversations to find the positives. Which brings me to…
3. Infuse positivity.
According to Harvard researcher Shawn Achor, a positive and engaged brain is one of the greatest competitive advantages, resulting in a 31% increase in productivity, 23% fewer stress-related symptoms, and a host of other effects that help humans perform better. Your support group can cultivate this advantage by infusing positivity. Give each other recognition and encouragement. Look for ways to celebrate wins like a completed essay, a submitted application, or the very last time one of your members will ever take the SAT. And don’t forget the fact that barring a serious error in your college list creation (one that can be avoided by getting your counselor to OK your list), all of you will be in college somewhere next year. Remind each other that while application season may be stressful, overall, life is good.
4. Keep each other accountable for work completed.
The most effective application support groups don’t just offer support and encouragement; they also keep each other accountable for getting the actual work done. Consider this recommendation by high school counselor extraordinaire Patrick O’Connor and carve out a two-hour block every Saturday or Sunday (or both) for the next few weeks to do nothing but work on college applications. If your group is focused enough to do that work together without interrupting each other, great—gather together at one of your homes or in the library. But if you just can’t resist turning those blocks into social time, then do the work independently, but check in about your progress collaboratively. Supportive and productive peer pressure can be a good thing if it helps you achieve a common goal.
5. Plan your application completion celebration.
One of the best ways to get through a stressful period is to have a bright spot at the end of it to look forward to. And in this case, the entire group can use that bright spot as a means to get your work done earlier than procrastination might have allowed. Plan an activity during the first weekend of your upcoming December holiday break to celebrate the completion of all your college applications, and make an agreement together that you’ll actually be true to the reason you’re gathering. No excuses, no “I just have a few more changes to make this week and I’ll be done.” I know you can’t possibly imagine just how wonderful it will feel to gather together, collectively say, “We’re done!” and mean it. But trust me on this one. The combination of pride, sense of accomplishment, and relief will feel almost as good as the inevitable acceptances to follow will.