I’m super freaking out about applying to college! Not only is my schedule really overwhelming, but the applications themselves seem so open-ended and confusing. How do I keep a straight head during the application process? —Elissa, 17, Bloomington, IN

It’d be silly for me to say, “Don’t stress.” Truth is, Elissa, this is a VERY stressful time—anxiety about applying to college is normal! There are so many factors that can all potentially lead to a major meltdown, like where and how many schools to which you’re applying, plus how long and difficult the process will be for each of them individually, and all of them on the whole. You might also be feeling external pressure from adults who are convinced that your whole future rests in this one decision. (Sorry—you’re stressed enough! But please just know that others have BEEN THROUGH IT, and that there’s a light at the end of this pitch-dark tunnel.)

To alleviate some of this pressure, try not to fall into the same traps I did. As I learned, wrapping up my entire self-worth with acceptance decisions, beating myself up when I got rejected, and simply feeling very low because I didn’t live up to OTHER people’s expectations were all distracting me from actual self-betterment and success. You are who you are, and colleges will hopefully see that—but if they don’t, just remember it’s their loss.

Bearing that in mind, be sure to apply to schools where you really see yourself growing and flourishing as a person—which is not just to say, “the ones that have prestigious names.” Apply to some safety schools as well as your dream universities—that way, you’ve got options. (In my case, my safety/last pick ended up being a place I loved immediately!) As far as money woes go, debt is inevitable—but you can do your best to avoid it with a little research and although you have a major workload already PLEASE seek out scholarships—I didn’t apply for any, and that was a big mistake.

Be wise in your decisions, but try not to let college consume every part of you. I drove everyone up the wall, including myself, during my application period. I wish I had focused on getting the most out of my last year of high school. It goes faster than you think. Spend time doing things that make you happy. Pick a hobby you’ll eventually take with you up the ladder to higher education. Whether you stay in the same town or move a million miles away after graduation, it’s more than likely that at least a few of you and your friends from high school will grow apart. In my senior year, I cut off a lot of my friends to channel every ounce of my energies into my applications. While that did make a difference in the overall level of polish in my applications, I would’ve preferred to be hanging with friends just a bit more. If you’re like, “But I hate everyone who lives in my underwhelming hometown,” direct any anxious and nervous energy you feel into an outlet you enjoy by yourself at home. Steal time to write, create a blog to document your year, do an arts-and-crafts project, work on your mixtape, etc. A word of caution from my personal experiences: Reading internet college-acceptance tips/stories of miracle acceptances and hoping you will meet the same lucky fate does not actually do much in the way of productive progress.

College is just one small investment in yourself, during the first part of a long and varied and interesting life. It isn’t the end-all, be-all of who you are, or who you will be in the future. Try your best to remember that! And when you do get over all of this, pay it forward to a girl flipping out this time next year. —Tayler

I found out yesterday that my 11 year old brother’s been watching porn. His browser history was open, and I nosily looked at a page of it. I saw pretty hardcore anal porn, and I don’t really know what to do. I feel like someone should say something to him, but I don’t know what. If my parents talk to him, they might teach him that sexuality is shameful. Obviously, it’s not, but I’m not sure if what he’s seeing is damaging to him. What should I do? —Lou, 16, Exeter, NH

Your concerns here are so thoughtful—how lucky is your bro that one of your main priorities is wanting him to see sexuality as healthy? The answer is, UNQUANTIFIABLY. There are mad reasons for this—let’s parse them (and you have my full permission to cringe/groan throughout, if that makes them easier to deal with, as long as you are not actually doing so when it comes time to talk to your brothaire).

Here’s what I suspect is going down: Your bro heard some sex-based chatter someplace and was curious about what was being said. Given that we live in a weird-ass and unprecedented time in which everything you could ever want to know about everything is highly researchable online, your brother went to the best source he could think of for answers: the internet, which, by definition, has WAY too many of them.

On any porn site, you’re apt to see a gamut of differently realized sexual tastes upon first click, whether you wanted to or not. So when a person heads online in the quest of satisfying an innocuous question like, “What is sex, and how do people look when they’re having it?” they are likely to be presented with HARDCORE SEX-TREME PUMMELING 3000 without knowing that what’s onscreen isn’t the factory standard, especially if they don’t know anything about boning otherwise. It’s not like those videos are inherently bad, but I am willing to wager that having 437 of them pop up in response to, or on the side of, the answer your brother originally sought is probably really confusing, and a little scary—the way even sex-as-we-know-it is in its barest (hee) definition, without the additional study materials, for mad people when they’re young. I bet it led to even MORE questions. All with their own highly clickable, but even more stymieing, corresponding works of cinema. Careening down that particular rabbit hole must feel SO mystifying for your brother, a person who is not even middle-school-age yet. This is where you come in!

If you want to talk to your bro: First off, don’t flip. Or, don’t flip about the fact that he’s curious about sex. Eleven years old sounds like a totally natural age at which to become aware of sexual mutterings and then be like, “WHOA WHAT IS THIS ADULT SECRET WORLD CALLED ‘SEX’ HOW DO I GOOGLE IT.” I’m precautioning you not to bug only as a matter of course, though, because it doesn’t sound like you are. But, if you think your parents aren’t going to handle this well, and you want to talk to your brother about sex and porn (which is NOT something you HAVE to do, but can be rad if you feel up to it), it’s worth it to communicate the fact that you think it’s healthy and normal in not only your choices of language, but also your tone. So maintain that level head, me babe. You wouldn’t believe that someone thought something you were exploring was oh-so-natural and -normal if the person telling you that it was was sweating and stuttering and looking mad distraught (…as I probably would in this situation, as you seem way more mature than I could have been about this back when).

In a moment when you and your brother have some privacy, tell him, straight-up, what you saw. Explain that he’s not in trouble, and that it’s just between you. Then say, “There’s nothing automatically bad with what you see online, but it’s also usually not the most accurate portrait of what happens between most people in person.” Ask him if he has questions, and don’t prod him if he’s slow to answer—just wait, and if he wants to talk, listen. Let him act disgusted or protest if he wants—and then reiterate that you are around if he wants answers, or maybe just where to find a smaller and more relevant set of answers than typing “sex how what why…sex?” into the family desktop. (Scarleteen and Positive.org are some solid non-shame-y resources for teenagers, if that is the case—and if it isn’t).

Even if he doesn’t want to talk about it, you’ve made clear an invaluable and rare thing for your brother to know: In the whirling delirium of trying to figure out what the hell sex even is, someone has his back and doesn’t think he’s BAD or WEIRD for having an interest in it. It sucks that that’s abnormal—but wholly great that it doesn’t have to be for your personal young dude. Good luck! —Amy Rose ♦

Life, sadly, is not just a bed of roses/respectful porn/college acceptances. Never fear: Rookie is around to help as best we can when times get tough! Email questions about what plagues you to [email protected], and please include your AGE, FIRST NAME/INITIAL/NICKNAME, and CITY.