Let’s talk brain science.  

Specifically, let’s talk frontal lobe, the brain’s executive function MVP and notorious nemesis for many teenagers.

Each side of the brain has four lobes, including the frontal lobe, which is responsible for a ton of what it takes to be a successful adult: 

  • Organization
  • Judgment 
  • Impulse control
  • Short and long-term planning
  • Language development
  • Memory
  • Attention/focus

It’s basically a pretty big deal. It’s also not fully developed until a person is around 25. For people who are neurodivergent (e.g. have ADHD or are on the Autism spectrum), frontal lobe challenges can be especially difficult during adolescence.

Yet when students are 17 or 18, colleges (and, frankly, our collective culture) expect them to manage a college application process that has become out-of-this-world complicated and make the biggest, most expensive decision of their lives up to this point…all without brains fully matured to juggle so much responsibility.  As we say here in the Midwest, OPE.

So let’s take stock of what a college-bound high school senior is expected to accomplish without a fully developed frontal lobe:

  • Attend a full day of rigorous classes across 6-8 subjects and keep focus in them to do well on homework and tests
  • Manage all homework and projects for those classes
  • Participate in extracurricular activities through school and the community
  • Seek leadership opportunities…even if they don’t really know what leadership entails yet
  • Possibly work a part-time job
  • Write multiple college essays and supplements utilizing a personal essay style generally not taught in high school
  • Communicate professionally with teachers and school counselors about letters of recommendation and application needs/status
  • Communicate professionally with college reps
  • Take SAT/ACT exams…maybe several times, and manage the anxiety that brings
  • Create and manage a prospective student online account for every college they apply to
  • Search for and apply for both institutional and independent scholarships (often much more time-intensive writing)
  • Manage stress and emotion of the college search and application process on top of increased senior year responsibility
  • Hold relationships together, participate in family events, have personal time

It’s no wonder the senior year can be fraught with anxiety for many students.  In addition to their full-time job (school), they face the potential for time-management nightmares and a lot of stress about tackling something so new and important in college applications.  

Strong support systems are key to make it through in one piece. Families, try to work together to get organized and chunk out big tasks into smaller ones. Consider getting a big wall calendar to write out color-coded important dates. Set times to work on homework and college application work. Students, have grace for your parents, who are trying to help but often have no idea how different the landscape is today compared to when they went to college.  Parents, have grace for your kids, who are carrying unprecedented educational responsibility and don’t have fully developed brains to get them through it smoothly.

Working with an experienced independent college counselor can also help your family navigate the college process with personally tailored guidance that also supports your teenager’s brain development. We begin working with students as young as freshmen, helping them prepare for the college search and life beyond it as unique individuals.