Start Where You Are

ID-100175251School’s back in session, so you know what that means: deadlines! You’ve got tests to study for, papers to write, projects to organize. And on top of it all, your college applications. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and think that there’s no way you can do it all. Maybe you’re even thinking that it isn’t worth it after all.

Psychologists have a term they use to describe the process of telling yourself you don’t want something that you really do want. It’s called rationalization. It’s a defense mechanism: instead of working really hard for something that might not happen, you tell yourself that it’s not that important to you. This way, you’re protected against feeling disappointed in yourself if you don’t get the thing you really wanted all along.

Applying to colleges can sometimes make you feel like so much is at stake — getting into the right school will lead to the right job which will lead to the right life, right? Wouldn’t it just be easier to not care about the whole thing?

Well, sure. College isn’t for everyone. There are lots of other good choices out there.

But if college is for you, then be gentle on yourself. Start where you are.

Say you’re feeling really behind on your application essay. None of the topics seems interesting. You don’t know where to start. It would be so much easier to just not think about it. Instead, call your best friend and ask him or her to describe you in 3 words. Then go into your kitchen and grab the timer. Set it for 5 minutes and do a brain dump. Free write about those 3 words. Can you remember a story from your life that shows that side of your personality? Just 5 minutes. You can do anything for 5 minutes, trust me. At the end of it, you just might have the start of your college essay.

Say you’re not sure where to start with your college search. There are almost 4,000 colleges in the United States, after all! Grab some magazines, a poster board, scissors, and tape. You’re going to make a visualization board. Flip through the magazines and rip out pages of images that make you feel good. Maybe there’s an ad for a body spray that shows someone surfing. Rip that out — you might want to go to school by the ocean. Maybe you find an article about climate change. Rip that out — you might want to go to school where students are concerned about the environment. See where we’re going? For some people, it’s easier to work with images instead of words. Tape these images to a big poster board and hang it in your room. Pull down images that no longer speak to you. Add ones that do. Take a look at it when you’re feeling lost.

Your college application process is yours and yours alone. Wherever you are in the process, start there. Be kind and patient with yourself. There are many paths in life. Give yourself a chance to find yours.


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