Executive Function Strategies Blog

How Non-Cognitive Variables Can Help in the College Admissions Process

Editor’s note: This week, we feature guest blogger Karen Spencer, Director of Educational Counseling for Bright Horizons College Coach. Please read more about Karen below.

Ask any high school junior going through the college search process about the one thing that scares them most and you’ll usually hear them say “standardized tests.” The SAT and ACT tests have been around for a long time (the SAT will be 100 years old in 2026!), and so have students’ fear and loathing of them. While I don’t know any students that love standardized tests, they tend to be more problematic for some students than others. The bright side is that many, many schools read holistically in their admissions process, which is to say that they look at many factors outside of just the numbers—the “non-cognitive” aspects of an application—and this focus can be very helpful for a student who struggles with standardized testing. 



The Anxious, Stressed High School Student: An Executive Function Link

Adults don’t always think of high school as the “real world,” but for students navigating that stage of life, the stress is entirely real. The academic obligations start to get more challenging and the social expectations feel more intense — just when students are beginning to add college and career decisions into the mix that will affect the rest of their lives.

While that is a lot to handle, some of that stress can be mitigated with changes to the way that they manage their demands. The two students described below illustrate the connection between stress (and the anxious feelings that come with it) and executive functioning - and how learning more effective executive functioning techniques can bring down the anxiousness and increase their success.



The Anxious Elementary Student: An Executive Function Connection

Students in elementary school often have good reason to feel anxious. Whether it’s taking tests in class, handling unexpected changes in a schedule, or remembering to take their materials home or to school, young students have a number of daily demands that require using their Executive Function skills. And because those very skills are still developing in their brains, elementary-aged kids won’t always be able to cope with their daily challenges without a little guidance from the adults in their lives. Here are a couple of scenarios that illustrate the connection between a student’s anxiety and gaps in their Executive Function development - and ways that parents can help bridge those gaps to build skills in their children.



Dealing With the Stress of Final Exams: How Positive Anchors Can Help

As parents, we sometimes fall into the trap of believing our children are too young to be stressed. We are the adults with bills and obligations, after all! Well, it turns out that kids feel the pressure, too.