This Is What The College Entrance “Guru” Can’t Teach Us: Managing High Stress for High Schoolers

On a rainy Wednesday evening, my husband and I sat in our local library listening to a college planning “Guru” explain the ins and outs of the college application and financial aid process.

The room was packed with Long Island parents eager to figure out the formula to finance and get the most out of our high schoolers’ college ride. We all sat and listened intently to the Guru and asked an excessive number of questions, so many that the librarian and custodian visited the room twice in their attempt to get us to exit before the two-minute closing time.

There was one family of a high school senior present in the room. The rest of us were parents of juniors and sophomores.

We all asked the usual questions:

What does my high schooler have to do to get into college? Should he or she take the ACT or the SAT? Is it too early for college tours?

But then the conversation shifted to the more serious issue:  MONEY.

How will we pay for college?

I immediately started to feel conscious of my heart beating and soon felt that throbbing move to my head. I reached out to touch my husband’s hand for much needed comfort.

I sat through the presentation and wondered, if I felt this way, how did my 15-year-old feel? Between violin lessons, basketball practice, four hours of homework, upcoming SAT prep classes, church, volunteering and extra-curricular activities, there’s not much downtime for him to be a kid.

More and more studies report increased stress among high school students as they prepare for college.  High schoolers are faced with the demands of considering careers, choosing the right college, and participating in the never-ending list of extracurricular activities, all in an attempt to get their portfolios to stand out to admission boards.

As per the Guru, high schoolers should strategize by using an acronym he referred to as CASA: Consistent, Atypical, Student, Activities. He recommended that high schoolers do extraordinary things, like organizing a 5 K race for a worthy cause, or writing a book.

Writing a book? I thought to myself, I have enough stress getting my teenage son to read a book!

Beta Club and Science Olympiad are now considered obsolete.

As parents, how do we help our kids cope with these educational stressors?

Stress in moderation is healthy. It teaches us how to cope, it builds courage, resiliency and trains us for survival. However, stress can also be debilitating, causing mental and physical anguish. Add those intense feelings into the mind of a 15-year-old and it can be a recipe for disaster.

Our children are our greatest investment. We put an exorbitant amount of love, time, and money into them, at times equating their success as our own. We play this high-stake market hoping to get lucky, selfishly hoping to get a return on our investment, realizing there is no guarantee.

As we try our best to guide them towards making the right decisions, it is also important that we provide balance while teaching them coping strategies to get through those unforeseeable, inevitable stressful times.

Parents must allow time at home for our high schoolers to talk about their stress and how to cope. As parents, we have to remain positive while praising their accomplishments, even in the face of a disappointing grade or rejection from a potential club or school.

The quest for high test scores, college admissions, and good grades will never go away but our role as parents is to help our high schoolers find a healthy balance between their educational goals and their personal lives. With parents who support, encourage, and teach high schoolers about responsibilities as well as strategies for coping with stress, they are strengthened for the road of life that lies ahead.

And those are lessons no Guru can teach us.


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