Applying to college can be a very stressful process.

Stress, in general—but especially consistent high levels of stress—can have an impact on a student’s brain functions, emotional well-being, and physical health.

However, the outward signs that your student’s health may be negatively impacted by stress are not always easy to notice. In fact, it may take some time for parents and/or guardians to spot subtle signals that not all is well.

Signs That Your Student’s Mental and Emotional Health Is Being Impacted by the Admission Process

boy reading a bookAlthough I’m not a trained mental health professional, I regularly consult with them. Moreover, I have worked with a lot of students over the years and observed, first hand, some of the indicators shared with me by those professionals.

Here are some of the symptoms indicating that stress related to the admission process may be affecting your student negatively.

Cognitive Difficulties

This can include the student experiencing problems with memory, forgetfulness, or a lack of focus on school work or everyday/family tasks.

Lack of Energy

The student may feel tired all the time and sleep more than normal. (Of course, feeling tired is commonly connected with the teenage years, so parents need to take into consideration what is normal for their student when making comparisons.) On the other hand, they may experience insomnia/trouble sleeping, which can also be related to feeling tired all the time, causing a vicious cycle.

Academic Problems

Where they once did not have trouble with school, the student now has academic problems. They may exhibit a lack of interest in what they are learning and forget to work on assignments, which often leads to declining grades.

Physical Health Issues

Since stress and emotional issues can manifest themselves physically, the student may get sick more often, as their immunity is impacted. They may also endure the onset of other physical manifestations of health problems that come on unexpectedly. These include repeated headaches or back pains that have no apparent causes.

Changes in Emotional Well-Being

These changes may entail mood swings and problems in relationships at school, with friends or teachers, or at home, with parents or other family members. The student may also feel general anxiety and an overwhelming sense of fear or apprehension. Also, they may begin experience doubts and a drop in confidence about their abilities and self-worth. This may be related to their current situation or to their upcoming future, as they step into young adulthood.

State of Avoidance

The student could have a sense of overwhelm, which may translate into avoidance behavior. You may watch a capable, smart, motivated student become a completely different person. Instead of meeting the challenges that arise, they may not fill out applications, work on their essays, and not apply the well-meaning advice from parents, teachers, and counselors. In the end, the progress in their college application may more or less stop altogether.

Often, many of these symptoms overlap—one might be related to another or even cause another. And while they are simply signs, the outward manifestation of undue stress in a student’s life, there usually is an underlying cause.

Causes of Mental and Emotional Distress

There could be a variety of causes for the aforenoted stress symptoms. It could be something simple. Perhaps a problem has come up specifically around the application process which may resolve itself with good parental support. But it also could be something more serious—an underlying mental or physical health issue that has laid dormant or has recently developed, which requires professional treatment or attention.

Here are some possible cause for the negative symptoms you may have noticed in your student.


Some students carry the persistent burden to be perfect. They feel pressured to apply to college on top of years of pressure to do well in school, take the most challenging classes, and add heavy extracurricular commitments. Keeping up with this busy schedule over a long period of time simply has worn them out (and it is not over yet, as the pressure mounts as they are trying to apply to a great college).


For many students, applying to college is a wonderful and happy rite of passage into adulthood. As with any rite of passage, there are challenges and hurdles to overcome. That is part of the process. However, for some students, these hurdles become overwhelming and have an opposite effect. These challenges are not inspiring, but rather feel insurmountable. And that feeling of hopelessness begins feeding back on itself, which eventually may lead a student into depression.


Often students feel anxious about juggling school and personal life, as they are trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. For some students, the worries related to academic performance can lead to panicking about grades, developing test anxiety, and being plagued by constant worries and fears that others perceive as irrational and unfounded. In some cases, these worries can lead to uncontrollable anxiety that interferes with a student’s daily functioning.

What Parents Can Do

As I mentioned before, I am not a mental health professional, and I am certainly not trying to diagnose anybody with any particular problem (for that, you would have to consult an expert.)

However, my own observations show me that, for a lot of students and families, the symptoms listed above are entirely normal in the college application process because many feel there is a lot at stake for them. At the same time, though, as parents and/or guardians, it is very important that you are aware of these symptoms as they may be signs of something more serious.

Therefore, whether the symptoms are caused by a serious issue or not, you need to know what you can do when you notice them.

Do not dismiss them. And do not push the matter aside.

If these manifestations interfere with your student’s college application process or if the symptoms become severe, it is prudent that you look further into the matter. Weigh the possibility that addressing the problem may require the assistance of a trained mental health professional.

I am an Independent Educational Consultant with many years of experience helping students and their families with the college application process. If you would like to know more about how I can help you to guide your child to success, please click HERE.