• My son is applying to 17 colleges and the application process is causing stress for both of us.
  • My husband and I proofread his essays and fill out the FAFSA form for him.
  • My son stays up late to do all this, but I try to keep him healthy.

I knew this time would come; I just didn’t know I would be so afraid of it.

My only child is currently a high school senior. To say these last few months have been difficult would be an understatement – ​​despite the sharp and specific pain of impending empty nest status.

As we approach the end of 2023, the hell that is the college application process descends upon our family. My son decided to apply to 17 schools. It’s a big number, but he’s interested in a very competitive field – film – and wants to cover a wide range of interests.

This process is certainly much more streamlined than Case I applied to universities several dozen years ago – without the use of handwriting, manuscripts, typewriters and stamps. But just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s easier.

This process was difficult to navigate

Frustration in my house is reaching its peak. My normally gentle, cheerful young man is sometimes grumpy, exhausted and quite stressed. I’m there with him.

In theory, the common application reduces the burden of applying to multiple universities. He submitted a transcript, letters of recommendation, and general essay via the website. These, in turn, are sent electronically to each school to which he will apply.

However, his focus on art majors means he must also submit a separate portfolio with downloadable examples of his work and additional essays. Some schools require as many as five additional submissions, all with different prompts.

He already has a full and complicated school load. He’s an International Baccalaureate candidate, so in addition to juggling college applications, he’s working on service projects and advanced physics homework.

Most evenings I work at my desk until just before midnight. Several times I’d come into his room in the morning and realize he’d been too tired the night before to bother turning off the light.

We have to make important decisions

It has “safety” and “abstract” schools in the mix, but we need to strategize on application deadlines. Should he act early to increase his chances of receiving merit scholarships? Should we go back to the usual decision and give him a little more time and space to prepare all the application materials?

The pressure cooker of options is enough to make anyone’s head spin, especially a 17-year-old still honing their performance skills.

I also have forms and applications to complete

I added the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the College Scholarship Services, or CSS, profile to our to-do list. My husband and I have just started collecting financial forms and filling them out.

We also read and provide suggestions for our son’s essays – twenty so far.

We are all trying to meet deadlines while doing our best to maintain the collective sanity of our family.

Even though the to-do list is intimidating, I’m rooting for my son

I constantly encourage my child, cheer him on, try to make sure he eats well, and guide him to spend as much time as he can with friends. This is his first big and extremely important transition into adulthood, but I know I have to help him find balance too.

Fortunately, we received great advice from the school counselor at his school. Our friends who have already been through this process are also wonderfully supportive.

Even though applying to college is intense and emotional, I know that in the end it will all be worth it. It will land where it should and bloom where it is planted, regardless of which university it chooses. We just have to endure, focus and stay focused a little longer.

As his mother, I hope this process teaches him a simple fact: nothing worthwhile is ever easy.


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