Your partners in educational excellence since 1994

You are here

College Bound

Five Strategies to Help Your Senior Complete Their College Applications

While some candidates are celebrating the results of early decision applications, many are still working toward January deadlines to pursue a full range of opportunities for next fall. Students and families often experience stress around the college application process in a normal year. And this year was…well, 2020. With that in mind, the most important support we can offer students this year is compassion and perspective.

Here are five strategies for helping students clear the final hurdles and get their college applications to the finish line:

  • Acknowledge their emotions. Thinking about college is both exciting and highly charged for teens because it encapsulates the thrill and anxiety of leaving home and becoming an independent adult. Contemplating these rites of passage can seem particularly hard when teens are spending more time than ever at home. Let them know that you recognize this quandary.
  • Focus on the future.  The weight of significant uncertainty can immobilize anyone. Psychological research shows, however, that planning for the future reduces unease. Students cannot control what the campus experience will be like next fall, but they can take concrete steps today—by finishing that essay or completing sections of the online common application—that will position them to have opportunities and choices then.
  • Offer support with logistics. Stress often amplifies our intrinsic challenges. If your student struggles with organization, go ahead and help them delineate a punch list or make a schedule to complete each outstanding task. If they aren’t detail-oriented, be a second set of eyes working alongside them to proofread application data fields.
  • Celebrate small and large milestones in the process. Every step is important. Share a high-five when teens finish the common app questions for each one of their schools, or let them know how much you like a turn-of-phrase in an essay. Imagine yourself as a smiling, energetic coach who is motivating a runner in the last mile of a marathon.

Each of our experiences of 2020 are both personal and universal. While some families have been more directly impacted than others, everyone’s year unfolded much differently than expected. This year’s seniors can take heart in knowing that the depth of challenges we currently face will not last forever. By completing their college applications thoughtfully, they can feel the pride of perseverance and the optimism that comes from continuing to invest in a brighter future.

Deena Maerowitz advises students throughout the entire college admissions process. She works with students ranging from freshmen to seniors and is an expert in both undergraduate and graduate education. She is widely published and sought-after as a speaker on college planning. She can be reached at

Other Stories in this issue: