High School Senior: The Danger in Assuming Your Safety School is Safe

This isn’t one of those “wow I got into college so now I’m an admissions coach and this is how to get into blah, blah, blah…” No. I’m specifically talking about mental health, pressure, and ways to make your life less stressful during this time.

I had a really hard time during application season and I want to help kids NOT have that experience. This post is full of personal stories and mistakes from my own application process, which I don’t want anyone to repeat.

teen girl studying
As someone who just finished the application process, here’s my advice. (Twenty20@JulieK)

Advice from someone who’s just been through the college application process

1. Do your own research, don’t let others do it

During my meeting with my counselor, I talked about the schools I was applying to. She told me that most of the schools on my list were reaches and that it would be harder to get into most of them. Clearly, this freaked me out. I’ve gotten into all the schools she called reaches because they weren’t reaches and I knew that.

It’s better to do your own research because had I listened to her about my favorite school being a reach I probably wouldn’t have applied and gotten in there. Scattergrams are always great, Niche is good, Naviance is great. She freaked me out for no reason.

2. Ask teachers/counselor/recommenders EARLY

This is something I didn’t do. My counselor saw that I sent in a transcript request on October 5th and that I had a deadline for a school on November 1st and was like “uhhhhh we need to meet about your letter of rec girl like rn.” And I ended up having to meet with her on Zoom during my vacation.

I contacted one teacher earlier and got his recommendation about mid-October. HOWEVER, I realized I needed a second teacher recommendation for this one school and I asked mid-October to have it done by mid-November at the latest (deadline for that school was Jan 1st so no rush) BUT THEN December rolled around and I was freaking out because the teacher hadn’t even STARTED MY REC.

She ended up submitting it on December 31st at like 11:30 pm and at that point, I had accepted I might not even be able to apply to the school. The moral of the story is to contact multiple teachers and your counselor early about letters of recommendation, preferably the week that school starts or the week before school starts when they are in school getting ready for class to begin!!!! It will save you from so much worrying.

3. Mention mental health if you want, I did

Mental health is so taboo still, and as someone who has struggled with ADHD, severe anxiety, depression, and an ED (it’s called ARFID its anxiety and sensory-based it’s not that kind of ED). I struggled in school at times. I spent sophomore year having anxiety/panic attacks 5 times a day, then spent junior year in and out of the doctors and spending maybe 2-3 days a week in school, and once I got back in school full time…

Covid hit. My grades weren’t bad. I didn’t get any Ds or Fs but they certainly were much lower than before. I worked hard to get the grades got. When the time came to write my essay, I wanted to write about my journey. My counselor and some of my friends discouraged this heavily.

My story is a story of perseverance, and I wrote about it anyways. I’ve yet to get an actual rejection, only got one deferral out of 8 decisions so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I worked hard to get where I am and so I wrote about it, and I think colleges appreciated that I made them aware of my fight to overcome everything I have been through these past few years.

You don’t have to write about anything you are uncomfortable with, but writing about my experience has yet to hurt me as they told me it would. Colleges like to see perseverance and determination, and mental health awareness is a growing movement. If you want to write about yourself, then do it. If you don’t, then don’t.

4. Safety, Safety, SAFETY!!

I recommend having a decent number of safety schools that you like, and here’s why: I applied to a school for which my stats were above their averages, loved the school when I visited. It was a great school and I really actually genuinely wanted to go there. There was a 90-95% chance I would get in according to all data, so it should be a safety, right?

I applied early action and got deferred. Nobody told me about yield protection, apparently, this school does a lot of it according to my research after the fact, meaning that if they don’t think you’re coming they ding you. This was one of my favorite schools, so I was bummed.

LUCKILY I had multiple safety schools and even got into another one that I fell in love with and will probably attend because it’s just a great fit. I’m fortunate that I didn’t bank on this school being my only safety. All I’m saying is just have some backup options for safety schools because you never know. It can never hurt!!!!


Oh my gosh, I cannot stress this enough, please practice self-care and take time for yourself. Last October-November I managed to push myself to a level of an extreme level of stress and anxiety.

I drove myself crazy checking emails and researching. It’s so easy to get obsessed with this process, you absolutely have to take time off. Make time for things you want to do, do not start spending your entire day researching and refreshing portals for clues as I did.

My mental health was so bad. This is maybe the most dangerous thing about this process, it can push you to new levels of stress that are so terrifying. I didn’t take any time for myself. I would only talk about college admissions. if you feel yourself getting like this, reach out to a friend or parent or trusted adult and save yourself from it. it does more harm than good.

Last but certainly not least

Do your applications how YOU want to do them

Don’t let someone tell you what you should write, what you should say, or what you should put as your activities. You’re an individual and your parents shouldn’t control your life.

My parents made me retake classes because I got a B+ and it made me miserable, they also were very involved in my college search process. I ended up applying to schools I don’t have any interest in attending.

Do NOT let your parents pressure you and say rude stuff about how they will only be proud if you get into an Ivy. That’s manipulative. You deserve a supportive parent who will be proud of you no matter what you do. That’s their job. They are supposed to raise you so you can go out into the world and be your own person, not the person they want you to be.

My parents learned from their mistakes and have gotten a lot better, but I truly advise that you listen to your heart and let it guide you to where you should be.

That’s the end of my advice. It never hurts to share what you’ve learned and maybe keep others from making those same mistakes.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

More to Read:

Please Keep Your Snarky Opinions About My Teen’s College Choice to Yourself

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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