What High Schools Can Do to Lessen Anxiety about Getting into College

Last month, I wrote about what parents can do to help lessen the anxiety about applying to college. This is the portion of a recent article by Leah Shaffer from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that talks about what school leaders and counselors can do to combat student anxiety:

To Mitigate an Anxiety Culture 

Anxiety isn’t an individual student issue. School leaders and counselors are increasingly reporting schoolwide “anxiety epidemics,” with large numbers of students feeling too paralyzed to work, and stress being almost celebrated as proof of achievement. Counselors can partner with principals and teachers to foster a school culture that mitigates anxiety and fosters positive mental health.

In more affluent, high-achieving schools, where pressure to excel can be debilitating, counselors can advocate for students not to overwork themselves academically. “Balance is important,” says O’Brien. If students appear particularly overwhelmed, she says, it may be best for counselors to suggest they take fewer AP or honors classes. Counselors can also encourage students to take part in outside extracurriculars that bring them “joy and a sense of self-worth” — feelings that can mitigate the stressors of intense academic work.

If students are feeling especially burnt out and nervous about college applications, O’Brien says, help them consider and explore alternative routes to a four-year college: taking a gap year, or first taking classes at a community college.

At the whole-school level, counselors can work with teachers to provide lessons on managing stress, prioritizing, and mentally switching between tasks, so that all students have an idea of how to handle feeling overwhelmed, suggests clinical psychologist Jacqueline Zeller. An evidence-backed curriculum on mindfulness and social-emotional learning can also give students, faculty, and staff shared terminology for labeling and managing their emotions, which helps ensure they’ll understand each other when problems arise.

Finally, counselors can encourage teachers to emphasize a growth mindset in their teaching, which can help students to embrace challenges, rather than feel overwhelmed by them. “Educators who take this approach offer positive encouragement that reinforces effort, as well as helpful instructional feedback on learning strategies,” says Zeller, also a lecturer at HGSE. “Helping students to have freedom to feel mistakes are part of the learning process will allow for students to focus more on developing effective strategies connected to the academic task at hand, rather than worrying about getting a perfect score on a test.”

From Resilience for Anxious Students – https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/11/resilience-anxious-students