Keep Calm and Apply to College

By Rebecca Heller, Associate Director of College Counseling
“Quietly accept the unknown.” These words from the I Ching speak volumes about the college application experience. As a college counselor and yoga teacher, I often think about “yoga mat” philosophies that I can bring from the studio to the counseling office. Senior year is often a stressful time for students and parents due to the uncertainty of admission outcomes and a fear of the unknown. As college counselors who facilitate the process for students year after year, we know if students engage deeply in the process and follow our advice it will turn out well. Our goal is to help students and parents find peace in the midst of what may feel like chaos, in the knowledge that a student’s bright future will ultimately be revealed.
Be Mindful in the Transitions
Yoga is about the transitions. As we move from pose to pose we want to do so slowly and mindfully. Just as in life it is it not only the big moments, but the journey to get there that is important.  Transitions are hard on any family, especially as seniors are about to graduate, leave home, and embark on their next adventure. In yoga, we talk about not rushing through the transitions, but to breathe, find the flow, and remain conscience of the present moment.
Svadhyaya is one the five niyamas and it means self-study in Sanskrit. The niyamas are part of the eight limbs of yoga that refer to the attitude we adopt towards ourselves as we move toward a more meaningful and purposeful life. During their Upper School years, students begin to turn an eye inward and think about what they really want after high school. If that is attending a college or university, what kind of school do they want to attend? Many aspects will help narrow down the wide range of schools out there:  Are students looking for a large public university or a small liberal arts college? Where in the country (or world!) do they want to be? What subjects do they want to study? What is their idea of fun at college? As part of our college counseling program, we ask juniors to answer questions in the self-reflective Junior Questionnaire. We also ask parents to fill out a Parent Statement before our Junior College Counseling Family Meeting so that their perspective is included in the process. The goal is for everyone to have a shared idea about the student’s hopes and dreams.
Self-reflection starts early. The college counselors work with students each year building their class schedules in a self-reflective way. We always encourage balance, playing to strengths and holding back in other areas to allow students the time for involvement in school life. It is nearly impossible to do it all! We want students to understand their own abilities and priorities. While often they could handle many of the challenging courses at Viewpoint, they may not be able to handle them all at one time. Students must begin to prioritize what is truly important to them.
Breathe Into It
In yoga we purposefully stress our body through challenging poses. Junior and senior year, all kinds of stressors are thrown at you, and the advice is the same as you would receive on the mat. Breathe, allow yourself to feel the emotions, and then detach from them. Relax into the experience rather than force it. Students and parents can choose the emotions they tie to the college application process. They can choose to be stressed and worried, or they can breathe, choosing to see this as a time of self-reflection and excitement as they prepare to transition to the next phase of their life.
The mind can be our enemy; the breath is our friend. Our minds can play tricks on us, believing untruths to be true. The way to find clarity is through calming the mind and not allowing it to dwell on bad thoughts or jump around keeping us up at night. It is said that “worry is a misuse of imagination.” The goal is to re-harness the imagination and use it in constructive ways: task completion, creativity, and problem solving. We can do all this through slowing the breath and calming the mind, whether that is in meditation, art, music, a yoga class, a walk, or a run. These are ways to deepen our breath and smooth the turbulent ripples of our mind. 
One of the rules in my yoga class is that of non-judgement. I ask that the students not judge others, and more importantly, not judge themselves. The doing of anything is in the practice, not in the perfection of it. This is also true in school and life; someone will always be better than you at all things, and you will often be better than someone else. Through the college process, don’t worry about what others are doing, whether that be test prep, college lists, or activities. Do what is true to you and makes you happy. Do the things that you are willing to do over and over for the simple joy of the practice without worrying about the outcome. 
Get Real
Samtosa is another niyama and means modesty, or being content with what we have. The best way to keep the process manageable and positive is by having realistic expectations and options. It is important for a student to understand where they land with regards to their grades, test scores, and family finances. Understanding these personal components and knowing what kind of college or university the student wants is key to creating a realistic, effective college list. If a student can get excited about and apply to schools within their range, they will create many positive outcomes. Stress sets in when a college list is top heavy with mostly reach schools, as the likelihood of obtaining admission to these schools is slim. The more highly selective schools on the list, the more stress you are adding to the process. 
Let Go
There is only so much you can control. But in fact that is quite a lot. Enrolling in appropriate courses and doing your best in the classroom, will almost always result in strong grades. Engaging in the process, self-reflecting, and figuring out what you want not only out of college but life after will help you see things more clearly. If you look at the college process as the opportunity to find schools that the student likes, that fit their academic profile, and meet their needs as a maturing student, you will have a calmer process feel more in control. Do good work on your applications, and then send them out into the universe. At that point whether the answer is yes or no, you will be assured that you have done your best.
I was once told that there are only three answers when we ask something of the universe: yes, not yet, and I have something better in mind. Students and parents can trust that the college process will be much the same. While not every answer will be a yes, and it can be frustrating when the answer is not yet, be confident that a college application experience well-engaged in will bring you something much, much better than you ever could have imagined.​
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