12 Tips: College Staff on Dealing with Stress

on December 14, 2016

College admission and financial aid staff and counselors experience a lot of stress, due to deadline pressure, understaffing and the importance of their mission. Limited resources force you to deny admission or financial aid to some students, crushing their dreams. Students and their families don’t always appreciate the work you do. This can be emotionally draining.

Here are twelve tips on how to handle the stress.

  • Focus on the positive. Remember that you are making a difference in the lives of your students and their families.
  • Recognize that you can’t solve every problem. Some students have experienced some pretty horrific situations, and you won’t be able to help everyone.
  • Try to provide every family with helpful solutions. Create one-page handouts on common topics, such as frequently asked questions, sources of scholarships, privacy rules and procedures, and resources for homeless students.
  • Establish emergency financial aid funds, to help students where a little extra money can make a big difference. Get a bunch of $25, $50 and $100 gift cards you can give out to students in need. Set up an on-campus food pantry.
  • Create contingency funds to provide financial aid to students who experience a mid-year change in financial circumstances.
  • Post a mission statement prominently in your office, where you can see it every day, as a kind of daily affirmation.
  • Take breaks throughout the day. Get up, stretch and go outside to get a breath of fresh air.
  • Share the burden. Discuss problem cases in weekly staff meetings. Meet with other departments, such as admissions, financial aid, student life and academic services, who experience similar problems.
  • Establish good policies, so you can rely on them as a framework for decision making.
  • Celebrate the wins. When you get a thank you note or letter from a student, share it with the office. Include an excerpt in the internal office newsletter. Post the letter to a bulletin board, where you and your colleagues can see it. Begin each meeting or each day by reading a thank you note from a student or by having a staff member tell a short story on one of the students they recently helped. This will help you start the day with enthusiasm.
  • Organize a staff morale committee that plans staff lunches and other events.
  • If all else fails, chocolate chip cookies can help. 

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