Thursday, August 8, 2013

A survivor's guide to college paperwork stress

Has paperwork ever made you cry?

I can remember running around from department to department at both my community college and university trying to manage all of the paperwork that came with applications, registrations, graduation, transcripts, and financial aid. 

Tears followed a few occasions when it felt like I was doing the same things over and over again and nothing was getting accomplished. 

College is rife with complicated paper processes that can leave the best of students in tears and drive the most at-risk students out the door. 

This past week I had to deal with a uniquely complicated paperwork process for a college that hired me to speak. A few phone calls and four visits to a fax machine across town later I was reminded of the intense stress paperwork can cause.

Luckily for me, the community college staff member who walked me through the process was helpful, empathetic, and supremely kind. 

When you're in the storm of a paperwork crisis there is nothing more helpful than a kind person on the other side of the desk (or phone). 

However, you can't control the attitude of the people you're working with, so below are four tips to help you avoid the paperwork headache and not let it ruin your college experience - or even your day: 

1) Read everything
 In an age of information overload, we survive by paying attention only to what we need. However, sometimes this skimming-instinct causes us to miss vital details. 

When it comes to college, read your college catalog. Read the introductory paperwork. Read every e-mail from your college. I know it's boring, but it will save you tremendous time, stress, and maybe even tears. 

2) Ask a lot of questions
Be proactive and ask lots of questions during every step of your college journey. 

While colleges do their best to keep you informed, sometimes the information isn't very clear, or you can simply suffer from information overload.

Being confused and frustrated is totally NORMAL. The students who visit the offices daily and ask lots of questions are the ones who get things done faster and with a little bit less stress. 

If you have a question, ask it right away and don't judge yourself. I truly believe in college no question is a dumb question. Ask and keep on asking. 

3) Find a friendly face
Get to know the people in your college's offices. Use their name and go back and say thank you when they help you. There are plenty of grumpy people in almost any office environment, but at almost every college you should be able to find at least one person who really cares about students and would love to be there to help you. 

Once you've found someone you connect with, ask for their e-mail address and follow up to say thank you. Then, stop by their office to say thank you in person or just update them on how you're doing. Ask that person for advice. Everyone who works in a college will have something helpful to share. 

Once you've built a relationships you'll have an ally who knows the college and who will bend over backwards to help you when you have a question. Even if they can't help you directly they'll connect you with someone who can.  

4) Remember the process will pay off
The worst part about paperwork is that it in the moment it can feel so irrelevant to your life. But whether we like it or not, paperwork is a gatekeepers to so many things in life, and it always helped me to remember that once I get it done it's DONE and I will be closer to my goal. 

Remember that your college degree is worth the stress. It's even worth the tears.

The sad truth is you will encounter paperwork stress throughout your life. However, the good news is you can use college as a training ground to build resiliency and not let paperwork ever stand in the way of your goals.

The more prepared you are to deal with the stress and avoid as many complications as possible, the quicker you'll go through the process and the greater sanity you'll preserve. 

Good luck with your paperwork this year. When you're stressed remember that you're not alone. (And while we're on reminders and paperwork, don't forget to fill out your FAFSA every year!!!! ;))

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