Don’t let fear drive the bus

Fear can sometimes be a healthy emotion. That big upcoming chemistry test, that big game next week, that big dog baring its teeth–fear can put an end to dawdling and move you to immediate action. Studying for that test, practicing your plays, getting the hell away from that dog… You’ve got fear, in part or in full, to thank.

But fear tends to do terrible things to kids and parents during the college application process.

Fear is the reason kids apply to 25 schools, many of which they don’t actually know much about or even want to attend.

Fear is the reason some parents choose the schools or complete the applications or even write the essays for their student.

Fear is the reason kids ask for feedback on their essays from anyone willing to read them, regardless of whether those people know anything about college admission essays.

Fear is the reason parents compare accolades and test scores and college acceptances with other parents.

Fear is the reason that kids hijack their completed applications and refuse to send them until right before the deadline. After all, once you hit send, it’s officially out of your hands and off to the committee.

Fear is the reason so many students and parents exhibit behaviors they would never embrace or endorse in other areas of their lives. That’s what the pressure around college admissions can do to some people.

There’s no magic pill to take to make this kind of fear go away. But you can recognize it for what it is. Here’s how.

When you’re feeling anxious and you’re about to take action, ask yourself:

Am I doing this because it’s a fundamentally good idea? Am I doing this because it will help me get where I want to go? Am I doing this because I will feel good knowing I’ve taken this step?

Or am I doing this only because I’m afraid?

You don’t back away from a snarling dog just because you’re afraid. You do it because it’s a smart thing to do, because you want to be safe, and because it gets you where you want to go.

But you’re not applying to 25 mostly unfamiliar (to you) colleges because it’s a smart strategy. You’re doing it because you’re afraid. And fear alone is rarely accompanied by a logical course of action.

If you want to get to where you really want to go, get good directions, follow a smart route, and ask for help if you get lost. But whatever you do, don’t let fear drive the bus.