Qualified college advice presented by an unqualified applicant

Natalie Cerf

I am a first-semester senior. I take six classes at school and one “class” at home: college applications. The load of the entire application process feels like exactly that, a whole other class. I’m writing essays, constantly stressed out, have to report to a “teacher” (college counselor) and have nightly homework with deadlines. I know that one-fourth of Redwood is going through the same thing, and I do empathize. I know just as well as anyone that this time of the year is more stressful than we ever anticipated it to be. Luckily, we do not have to suffer alone. There are more services and resources on campus than I realized, and I’d bet I’m not the only one who didn’t know about them. Between the Wellness Center and the College and Career Center, the low 100s wing of the school is basically a one-stop shop for any stress relief or college help you could need. Here is some advice that might help make first semester senior year a little more bearable.  

Banners hang in the College and Career Center showing off different colleges.
Banners hang in the College and Career Center showing off different colleges students may be applying to.

“Have compassion for yourself”

According to Cera Arthur, Wellness Outreach Specialist, the amount of people that come to Wellness because of college-based stress is very high.

“When I am checking in with people, they are really overwhelmed by not only the college application process but being in class and just trying to function as a student,” Arthur said.

I know that my fellow seniors and I have struggled these last two months combining all of our school assignments with our college application work. Arthur suggests that in order to combat this type of stress, sometimes the unsuspecting distraction can be just what we need.

“I usually ask [students] in the past when they’ve been really stressed what they have done to help; sometimes that’s just distracting themselves and painting. Sometimes it’s just to really talk about it which can be done with their school counselor or another therapist here,” Arthur said.

Arthur said that this year the Wellness Center is focusing in on self-care, stress and anxiety. The center will be putting on school-wide events to help kids cope with their stress levels in an effort to make them more manageable, so make sure to look out for more information about those in the future.

The Wellness center, full of sunlight and fairy lights, is a welcoming place for students who need a somewhere to ease their stress.
The Wellness center, full of sunlight and fairy lights, is a welcoming place for students who need a somewhere to ease their stress.

However, in my experience, simply lowering my stress levels is way easier said than done. If there was simply a switch in my head that could “dim” my stress level on a day-to-day basis, I would love it. Unfortunately, technology has not come quite that far yet and so we are left with some evergreen tools.

“I think it is really important not to make college applications the constant topic of conversation; there are other things going on. I think giving yourself breaks is so important and just allowing yourself to relax and trying not to feel guilty about taking the time to take care of yourself,” Arthur said. “Be gentle with yourself, ask for help and staying connected with friends.”


“Turn down the volume”

Meg Heimbrodt, College and Career Specialist, is another great resource for any and all students. She will start the college conversation with students as soon as freshman year, if that is what they’d like. The College and Career Center, according to Heimbrodt, is a great resource for students to begin exploring colleges and the different opportunities that they offer. Students can meet with college admissions representatives at school and have a fall semester full of SMART class periods dedicated to college application help at the center.

Right now seniors are 100 percent allowed to have the monopoly over who is feeling the most stressed out on campus. However, I do recognize that the seniors are not the only class worrying about college. The looming stress of college, according to Heimbrodt, is something that often begins before senior year.

“I think the stress begins way before [senior year]. My goal since I started here is to help change the mindset, or change the norms around here from thinking that there are only 10 acceptable schools to go to into helping students realize that there are lots and lots and lots of schools,” Heimbrodt said. “The goal is to find what is the best fit for the individual student, not what is the best fit for 50 other students.”

I know I cannot be the only one who has felt the weight of the college application process before it was even close for it to be time to be thinking about it. Whether it’s an older sibling, parental pressure, internal pressure or some combination of the three, the intensity of the stress did not start recently.

“One of the messages I give to all the students who come in is to turn down the volume. There is so much frenzy and so much hype. I meet with freshman and sophomores who are already feeling that pressure and I just want to try to start reducing it from the get-go,” Heimbrodt said. “The emphasis is not ‘I have to get into this one school,’ it’s more about ‘I have to find a place that fits who I am and what I’m looking for.’”

Heimbrodt helps kids realize their full, individual abilities instead of clumping them together. She notices that there is a large amount of pressure coming at kids from every single angle of their lives, making it nearly impossible to block every single worry out all at once.

“One of the ways I help students reduce stress is by seeing them as a whole person and have them understand that this is just part of the journey. There is no right or wrong answer in this process,” Heimbrodt said.

The Wellness Center offers a spot for students to enjoy stress-relieving tea.
The Wellness Center offers a spot for students to enjoy stress-relieving tea.

There are so many different ways that people respond to stress; it would be insane for me to assume that lighting incense and drinking tea does the trick for everyone (I do recommend it, however). Whether you are more of a soother of the mind or a soother of the soul, I think it is important for us all to at least make the effort to agree on one thing: do not overwork yourself.

“During college applications it is really important to listen to your body, make sure you’re sleeping. There are a lot of really great resources here; the school counselors help, the College and Career Center helps and Wellness, too. Have compassion for yourself, take breaks, don’t over-caffeinate,” Arthur said.