The Mixed Bag of College Applications

“Where will I get in?”  “Are there too many reach schools on my list?”  “What schools would be backups?”  I am often asked these questions when parents and students first start talking about the college selection process, usually toward the beginning of the conversation too.   The fear of not being accepted can loom large for students and parents who’ve worked for years to be qualified to be facing college applications.   Somehow, students and parents imagine the colleges admissions officers holding all the cards, and wondering how to mold themselves into the candidate worthy of admissions.  The sense of “Am I good enough?” can be challenging, when making decisions about where to apply.  Both parents and students feel their own version of these concerns.  However, moving forward with college applications in spite of any fears or concerns can become a part of the growing up process that in the end can benefit students.

The growing up part can happen on multiple levels.  One, the college application questions and essays force teenagers to consider what goals they would set for themselves, rather than just matriculating to the next grade along with their class, asking them to begin taking responsibility for themselves.  Secondly, since students are being asked to promote themselves – their experience, their grades, their knowledge – displayed in neat boxes and tables and essays and letters of recommendation and admissions interviews, for people whom they may never meet, applicants have the chance to wrangle with the idea of one’s life’s work being judged by some unknown person, without the opportunity to clarify.  Having the opportunity to think through the highlights of one’s experience, as well as admissions officers’ potential objections, can create a powerful introspection that garners self-confidence, as well as gaining a sense of one’s inherent human frailties.   Knowing one’s humanity is a gift, beyond any college acceptance.

A second strategy is to turn the college admissions process around; at the point of selection, students and parents are in the driver’s seat.  Imagine all the colleges lined up, waiting to be picked for a date with you – all scrubbed clean, polished, smiling, in their finest duds, prompt with answers, cordial, pleasing.  The applicant is the CHOOS-ER, not the CHOOS-EE.   Instead of choosing colleges based on, “Where can I be accepted?”, wonder, “Which college is worthy of MY $175,000 – $250,000 of current, past (i.e. savings) and possibly future (i.e. student or parent educational loans) earnings, PLUS four years of my life – both time and effort?”  Turning the tables can reduce the pressure and worries about acceptances, and empower the student and their family to make choices that are fitting for the student – which in the end provides the value the student seeks in college.

The unknowns about college admissions and the possible future impacts of choosing to attend one college over another can create additional complexities for students and parents, when selecting colleges for application.  There is no crystal ball, unfortunately, to guarantee the perfect acceptance.  However, the benefits of the possible “growing up lessons” can be invaluable, for students and families who continue through the application process to gain admissions to college.