Everyone takes a deep breath. If you’re a high school student, it’s probably hard to ignore the fact that August has arrived. First, stores started their early back-to-school sales push. On August 1, the Coalition for College and software platform Scoir launched their new streamlined approach to applying to college. On the same day, the Common App released the 2022-2023 version of its university admissions application, which is now used by more than 1,000 different institutions across the country and the world.
Social media is buzzing with posts of open applications and colleges are filling email inboxes with invitations to apply. Meanwhile, some applicants are urged to apply for rolling admission schools as soon as possible, just to take the “victory” and know that they have an acceptance in their name. As a school counselor and father of teenagers, I can feel the collective blood pressure rising. Admission to college isn’t a race, but if it was, it’s better understood as a marathon and not a sprint. Maybe it’s even better to go for a long walk that includes an occasional jog. But if you pace yourself, it can be an enjoyable and meaningful journey. Don’t forget to take a deep breath.
Access and fear
There is an ongoing tension in college admissions between reaching out to students who may not think a college degree is for them and others fixated on “entering” the most selective school possible. Underrepresented first-generation and low-income students face disproportionate barriers to applying for jobs and entering university. Often they don’t have access to the same resources as their wealthier peers, which understandably leads to insecurity and anxiety. Colleges are eager to reach out and support these students through the admissions process, but this drive for awareness can have the unintended consequence of widening the flames of fear. Coupled with the very deliberate motivation of some colleges to drive up enrollment numbers, hysteria ensues.
On the hunt for volume
Application platforms exist to facilitate the admissions process, and they face their own tension to simplify the experience and support students, while also responding to the agendas and priorities of the institutions they serve. The ease of applying to college has made these platforms vehicles of both access and excess. This has led to a vicious cycle of uncertainty and “application addiction,” with colleges seeking more students in their admissions pool and students applying to more colleges. This cycle makes enrollment more difficult to predict, which is why all voters in this scrum react with a flawed “more is better” philosophy.
Do not shoot the messenger
Believe it or not, the educators and professionals who bring you these applications also want you to pause, be aware and breathe. While they want students to use their tools, they want it to be done responsibly, with a balanced approach and with an individually appropriate time frame. Stacey Kostell, Executive Director of the Coalition for College explains, “Wherever students are on their admissions journey, we want them to know that help is available and that they don’t have to go it alone. Signing up and enrolling is the end goal , but coalition schools are working together to engage students along the way, answer their questions and help them feel more comfortable with the process Connecting with us this fall at events or even viewing recordings of our past sessions, can be a great first step to applying for a job.” Gerry McCrory, founder and CEO of Scoir, agrees. He says, “When students prepare to enter college, our goal is to reduce as much stress and anxiety as possible so they can focus on what matters most: discovering colleges that best suit their academic, social and financial needs. That’s why we’ve worked so hard with our partners to enable a student-centered process.”
Scott Anderson is the senior director of outreach and education at the Common App and a former school counselor. He says: “Every August 1, we celebrate a new year and a new opportunity for students to pursue their college dreams. While we are so excited for students who are ready to take this next step on their journey, it is important to emphasize that it is ONLY August 1.” He emphasizes that ‘applying to university is not a race, even though it may feel like it. Just as every college has its own TSTIME, every student has their own timeline. Take the time you need to be attentive and find the resources and support you need to help you find a university where you will thrive. Remember: your final decision is just that – yours! He adds, “Common App will be there for you whenever you’re ready for us.”
The early win
I appreciate the idea behind students proactively applying to colleges and the confidence that comes from an acceptance. As a counselor, I have witnessed the weight lift off a young person’s shoulders when they realize that college is achievable and that they have options. However, unless an applicant is genuinely interested in possibly attending a particular university, it simply adds to the inflation of the application. If a university on your list that seems like a good match has ongoing admission, be sure to apply when you feel best prepared, but don’t succumb to the “land grab” mentality of applying to schools because it’s free and “why not win.” ?”
Tune the noise
University admission is plagued by information overload and often media coverage perpetuates the narrative that it is a game. Clickbait headlines add to the frenzy, obsession with a small group of selective colleges, and worst of all, the idea that you have to be exceptional and impeccable to get admitted. Take, for example, a recent Wall Street Journal article on “absurd” college essay prompts. The author writes, “Back to school season is upon us, and for many emerging high school students, so is the college application process. Most college applications, including the Common Application and the Coalition for College, opened Monday. key part of the frothy frenzy of college admissions season: crafting the perfect essay.
Not helpful, nor is the condemnation of unique essay prompts that encourage students to reflect in unconventional ways. While there are potential equality issues with applications that require more work and nuance, there is also a method to the “madness” the article promotes. During a webinar last week, an independent education consultant regretfully told the story of one of her clients who has to write seventy (yes, you read that right – 70) essays for their university applications. That indicates a college list that is outrageous and probably has no intent. Don’t get caught up in the mania or suggestion that you have to be perfect. Angel Pérez is the CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and a former dean of admissions at several colleges. He advises, “Bring your authentic self to the application and don’t try to become someone you are not. Besides, if a university is going to “deny” you for who you are, you wouldn’t want to go to that school. So don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Just be yourself, tell your own unique story and you will arrive at the school that suits you perfectly.”
Take the time for thanks
Speaking of essays, one school this year hopes to encourage students to pause and think in important ways with their supplement. The University of Pennsylvania has added a short-answer prompt asking students to: “Write a short thank you to someone you haven’t thanked yet and would like to thank.” Whitney Soule, Vice Provost and Dean of Admissions explains, “We’ve thought carefully about the impact of adding another prompt (and we’ve shortened the word length of other prompts to minimize that impact).” She adds: “It may be impossible to remove fear from the application process, but it is essential that we base the process with an emphasis on the experience of individual students applying. Most applications invite students to organize and describe their achievements and aspirations. So in a way, we inadvertently force them to be very self-centered while evaluating them academically and as members of the community.”
Soule says, “As admissions leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure that every detail we ask students has value in our assessment. And we have a responsibility to think about the impact of what we ask for and how we ask it. an applicant, regardless of resources and support, answer the question? What would it be like to prepare a response? How are we going to prepare readers to include the response in a holistic review?” When asked why gratitude, she replies, “We know that expressing gratitude is more powerful than describing it, so we hope that answering the prompt, writing a thank-you note, will feel good to students when they do it. For those of us reading the application, we will appreciate learning a little bit of context about how the student experiences the impact of others.”
Don’t go fast
You may have heard the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.This is of great importance to the university admissions experience. While it is certainly a personal process, it does not have to be done in solitude. As noted, there is – and will be – plenty of encouragement for you to move quickly, but resist the knee-jerk reaction to rushing your application and accompanying materials. It is important to first identify your team, the ones who will support you throughout the journey. For some, this will be family members, counselors, teachers, or coaches, and others will rely on friends, employers, pastors, or other mentors. Work with these individuals to create an application timeline for the coming months that aligns with your unique circumstances. Communicate openly and often and live the experience, but ask for help when you need it. There is time, but don’t wait until the last minute. Remember, pace yourself, breathe, and together you will go far.