I was fortunate enough to be a guest at an end of summer workshop at Jenkintown high school working with some wonderfully well prepared students. We completed a group discussion on the college essay and college search and application process and then I met with about a dozen students individually about their searches. My conclusion, “you’re in pretty good shape for the shape you are in”. All the students had put together some form of an essay, requested teacher recommendations, visited several colleges and universities, and had their lists put together. Their biggest fears:
1) Not getting into top choice
2) Making a mistake that might cost them #1
3) If #1 happens, what’s next?
My response, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..." Well not really, didn’t have that one memorized, but if I did I think it would have been a wonderful response.
It’s important to know that most of the work is done. Your body of work through 11th grade is completed. Yes, you can strategically package yourself with essays and interviews, but those items can only influence decisions so much. They are (interviews and essays) epilogues your novel that is already written. So while you can still fear #1, don’t fear that #2 will greatly influence the final decisions. That doesn’t mean I don’t recommend putting a lot of time into these items. It just means that strong students will almost always present themselves well in these areas. I’m sure my new friends at Jenkintown will!
So what if we get to #3? "Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple." Most students and families end up believing that there is one college or university that is the ultimate for them. So they pour everything into trying to maximize their chances of gaining admission, the students I spoke with at Jenkintown were no different. And many of them have top choices that are reaches and some will receive responses they don’t want to hear. But if they all do a smart search once they get over the sting of a disappointing letter they (students) will realize that there is more than one college that they can gain an amazing experience and education at. A proper search always has a plan B and gives a student several options come the spring of their senior year. So I recommend adding an “s” to “top choice”.
While I wish all high school seniors the best of luck with their college searches, the more important thing is that everyone who desires a college education has the opportunity to obtain one whether that means their first choice, fifth choice, or something else. So I leave you with one final quote from the best college counselor you can find, Dr. Suess, "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."