If you are ever wondering why your high school senior is a little crankier than usual, here's some part of the laundry list that's keeping them up at night: "Register for the SAT Subject Tests, prep for the ACT, ask science teacher if she'll write a letter of recommendation, take one 'reach' school off the list, try to find a safety school I'd really attend, introduce myself to the new guidance counselor, order transcripts, write personal statement, fill out the Common Application, find out scholarship deadlines," etc. And this is just what's on their college to-do list. It's no wonder they're bleary-eyed and a little anxious.
Parents: Remember your child is more than a college applicant. Limit the conversation about college-related topics to specific chunks of time when they are most likely to be receptive.
Stop micromanaging -- also known as helicoptering and hovering. Many parents fail to empower their children and lose out on giving them the best gift of all, independence. It's hard to let them muddle through, but the life lessons are much more valuable. Believe in your kids and let them take control of the process. If they can't manage this without your help, how do you expect they'll manage next year on their own?
Help where you can. There are some parts of the college-admissions process where it's fine for parents to take the lead: register and pay for testing, coordinate campus visits, calculate your family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), contact the financial-aid office if needed, research scholarship opportunities locally, nationally and at each of the colleges where your student is applying.
Don't sweat the small stuff. Pick your battles and figure out when less-than-critical items can slide.
Students: Don't talk to other students about the college admissions process. You are better off feeling confident in your own research, college lists and essay writing; don't compare yourselves to your peers.
Make a schedule. Write down all the deadlines (testing, application due dates, etc.) and then work backward creating a manageable calendar of what essays need to get written by what date. Don't procrastinate, and give yourself twice the amount of time you think you'll need to complete each task.
Get physical. Exercise or any vigorous activity will work against the negative effects of stress.
Take a break. Grab some time for yourself and spend a few hours not thinking or talking about college. Yes, you can show this one to your parents!
Remind yourself and your parents that "what you get out of college has much more to do with what you put into it than where you go."
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.