The 6 stages of post-college application anxiety

by Silvia Andreoletti S6ITA, Frankfurt

We’ve all been there: it’s time to send that college application, internship email or important letter that you’ve spent most of your waking hours working on in the past month, and after that you can relax and forget about it until an answer comes. Right? If humans were a rational and logical species, yes, but most of us will go through several stages of pain and anxiety before finally reaching that conclusion. These stages are helpfully illustrated here, not so that you can avoid going through them, but at least so you know you are not alone in your madness.

  1. Relief

Well, you’ve done it! After double and triple checking every word of your resume and obsessing over every comma in your essay, the last application is sent out and you are officially free, at least until interview and exam season in the spring. This feeling is wonderful, but unfortunately rather short-lived, as it soon gives way to…

  • Hopelessness

After the first stage, one would be tempted to celebrate with friends about the last application being sent out: this seems like a great idea at the start, until the conversation inevitably shifts to what universities everyone has applied to. When you find out your 9.5-average, student government, robotics club, charity founder friend only applied to “mostly local universities, and a few reaches abroad, but I’m not very confident about those”, you can’t help but feel your chances at the prestigious international colleges your relatively average self naively applied to are less than 0

  • Regret

“Well, at least my essay and personal statement are impeccable and will make me stand out from the sea of applicants”: this would be enough to calm any intrusive thoughts, until you eventually can’t resist the temptation to reread said essays, and find spelling mistakes and whole sentences you wish had never seen the light of day. You then start having even more irrational anxieties over the most basic parts of the application: “what if I spelled my name wrong? What if I forgot to put my address, and when I’m accepted the letter doesn’t come and they give away my place? Maybe I mistyped my GPA, and all the admission officers will think I’m a fraud!”, and so on. This irrational panic subsides after a day or two, but the thought will always be in the back of your mind, ready to nag at you when you’re least expecting it.

  • Looking for other careers

This step has a different iteration for everyone, but anyone who tells you they haven’t considered an alternate career or looked up “20 best paying jobs without a degree” is lying. My own experience wit this is best illustrated by the google search history, of an afternoon where I was feeling particularly hopeless:

Careers without college degree


What does a nun do

How to become nun

Do you have to be religious to become a nun

Atheist nuns

Buddhist nuns

Is being a nun difficult

Nuns duties

Is sister act realistic

Nuns diet

What is a communion wafer

Nuns salaries

High paying careers without college degree

Sub in pâtissier, cartoonist, amusement park reviewer or similar for nun and you will gain insight on 99% of high school senior’s musings.

  • “They’re too good for me anyway”

After having accepted that you almost certainly misspelled your name, forgot your address and sent in ridiculously banal and confusing essays, you take the fact that you’re never going to be accepted anywhere, not even the local community college, with defiance and resignation. “They don’t really know me anyway”, you say proudly. “When I publish my groundbreaking research/become a world-famous writer/get elected as president of the world, every university will be competing to give me an honorary degree, and all the colleges I’ve applied to will be sorry they passed up the opportunity to have me”.  This, too, is a relatively short-lived feeling, but gives way to the much-awaited last stage of college application anxiety…

  • Acceptance

Much like the 5 stages of grief, the last phase is acceptance. This either comes in the form of resignation (“oh well, I guess I’ll one of the strange men that try to sell you pamphlets on reptilians outside supermarkets and live under the highway bridge. They’re happy too, in their own way”), or in the (usually healthier) acceptance that anything that happens now is outside of your control, you’ve done your best and you can move on until decisions are out in the spring.