Self-Care in the College Admissions Process 🍃
We’ve all heard the usual self-care tips--drink water, get sleep, don’t forget to take a break! While these are all important things, I did not find them very helpful when I was a high school senior. In my mind, the best thing for self-care was to finish college apps ⌛
It’s important to consider why the college process is draining 😪
Part of it is how essay writing is draining—the process is time-consuming, and describing yourself in 650 words sucks. The other part is how college apps co-opt our relationships 🗣️ Friends now only talk about schools, essays, and scholarships. What used to be safe spaces to hang out are now toxic spaces full of comparison and competition. And instead of asking how we’re doing, counselors/teachers/adults ask which schools we’re applying to and what we’re going to study 🎓
Unfortunately, I have some news 📰: The problems above will not go away even if you drink water, get sleep, and pretend they don’t exist.
Real self-care during college admissions requires you to think about how you take back control of the process. How might you get your essays done as effectively as possible 🤔 while nurturing relationships?
Here are two strategies:
#1: Reflect with friends 🪞
Many tell us to start essay writing in the summer (a good tip).
What people get confused by is what “start essay writing” means. Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT mean ‘retreat to your room with the laptop, pull out the Common App prompts, and start obsessing over them’ 😵💻
College essay writing is split into two phases:
1. Reflection 💭: Thinking about your values, strengths, passions, long-term goals, miracle moments, inspirations, childhood experiences, favorite Disney movies, possible selves (basically all possible essay content).
2. Writing ✍️: Actually writing 650 words.
As you can imagine, the “reflection” phase should take up most of “essay writing.” No one needs three months to write 650 words. The actual “writing” phase should be time-bound to a couple of hours max.
While it might seem weird to do the actual essay writing with friends (people at my high school even had a hard time sharing their essays), you can do the reflection part with friends! Identify a couple of guiding reflection questions (shameless plug: my startup, Mindful Applicant has ideas!) and find a time to answer them with friends. This is a great opportunity for deep/soul-nourishing convos, all while making progress on your essays 👐
The best part is, reflection takes up the majority of “essay writing.” So maybe essay writing doesn’t have to be a lonely task!
GIF From GIPHY
#2: Speaking your essay > writing it 🎤
Now, the actual writing part. Let's face it: staring at a blank Google Doc for hours is a soul-sucking task.
Sharing your story in your college essay shouldn't be done by locking yourself in a room and typing on a computer. If you think about it, storytelling necessarily involves dialogue and collaboration. We spend our lives telling stories about what we did, where we were, and who we were with, so storytelling should come naturally. How might we bring more of that into the writing process?
Here’s the secret: don’t type your college essay. Tell it to a friend, record the conversation, and transcribe it 📼
I used this trick to re-write my UPenn essays 48 hours before they were due, and it worked like magic. Here’s how you do it:
Break ⛏️ up your essay prompt into 3-5 questions. This is especially helpful for the college-specific supplemental essays with multi-part prompts.
Find 🔎 a friend or trusted mentor who can hop on a 30-minute call with you. Send them the 3-5 questions you prepped above. Have them ask you those questions sometime in your 30-minute conversation.
During the call 📞
have a normal conversation. Don’t perform! Record and transcribe that entire session. Otter
is a great tool to do so.
You'll find that your conversation transcript is actually super usable because you are responding to questions that you prepared beforehand. I spent a couple of hours editing the transcript, and that became my college application. The best part was that I didn’t have to sit in front of a computer pulling my hair out; I got to connect with an old friend while “writing” an awesome college essay 🌟
Ultimately, we know that self-care in college admissions is all about relationship care. It’s about finding ways to hack the essay process to make it an exciting, enlightening, and inspiring experience shared with people—not an isolating, stressful, and miserable one 😆
By reflecting with others at the beginning of the essay writing process and then recording your essay with a trusted friend/mentor, you are using the college essay as a way to cultivate relationships, not co-opt them 🌱
Beyond essays, you can use many other interventions to take control of conversations and interactions around college admissions with parents, teachers, counselors, essay reviewers, financial aid experts, and more. Learn more about these interventions and strategies for reflection through The Mindful Applicant’s
Brain Alive pilot. We’re excited to reflect with you 🤗