One of my favorite experiences while working with high school seniors in August and September each year is being present when they start their first college application.
The most frequent comment is: "this is really happening!" That excited comment is confirmation that the college process does not seem real at first to many teens.
Part of the reason college seems so far away to teens is that the time perceptions of teens and adults are so different. Teens are more focused on the present while parents take a longer view.
Time perception differences can cause parents to feel anxious when teens put college applications off until "later". Because students have to apply to colleges as much as a year before they actually start college classes, it is difficult for students to grasp the reality of college...until they start that first application.