Every year as the admissions process ends for one group of students, it begins for another. And each year I meet with parents and high school seniors with same anxieties, stresses and hopes as families from the years before them. Undoubtedly, the admission process can be stressful. For some it is the culmination of years of work, driving from activity to activity, and all-nighters. For others it is the indication of changes to come. And for all, applying to college has become irrationally complex and complicated. But there are some simple ways to minimize the stress.
- Get on the same page. The biggest mistake that I see families make each year is that each family member thinks about this process in a vacuum, which leads to confusion down the road. One year, a girl and her mother had agreed that she would apply to colleges as a Biology major. All of her applications spoke of her love to science and of a desire to pursue research and medicine in the long term. Upon receiving her acceptances, her father immediately called me asking why she did not put Computer Science as her major. First she had never done a programming course in her life and simply did not want to apply under that major. But he then proceeded to call each school to change her major without her consent, which led to major arguments in their household. This could have been easily avoided having open communications within the home from the beginning.
- What is the goal? It is so easy to get wrapped up in the craziness of the process. It is easy to focus on just brand name of a college. It is easy to just want to collect admissions offers. But if we step back for a second, we have to remember that the singular purpose of the admissions is to find a college for your almost-adult where he will thrive, prepare for a career and life, succeed, be challenged, and be fulfilled. Keep the focus on the child and not the college itself.
- Keep expectations realistic yet ambitious. This is a fundamental tenet in our office. We should always encourage our youth to stretch beyond what they think is possible, to push themselves, and to deal with and learn from failure. With this mind, students should apply to their dream colleges, but not just their dream colleges. They should apply to the best schools for them that span the spectrum of difficulty of admissions.
- Get organized early. Summer is an ideal time to get organized around the admissions process. While applications are not open until August, early summer is the perfect time to research colleges, visit colleges, brainstorm and draft essays, and reach out to recommenders. There is certainly no need to spend hours upon hours on college applications; in fact there are diminishing returns in doing so. But a few well-spent hours every week will go a long way.
- Roll with the punches. While the admissions process is relatively straightforward, it is not rigid. It is a process that is primarily driven by human beings. As a result plan for errors, learn to deal with different personalities, get comfortable managing others, and know that overcoming obstacles is a must.
You will get through this process just as other students and families have been doing for decades. You will survive the process minimally scathed and incredibly empowered. You will learn about your own goals and dreams. You will be able to better articulate what is most important to you. You will find that process is as enriching as it is rewarding. But in preparation of this very important step, a large dose of focus and preparation will make all the difference.