Contributed by Dan Batkin
1. None of this is essential right this minute.
As the college and career counselor for Peninsula Catholic High School (PC), I do three different college planning workshops a year. One is geared toward seniors and focuses on the nuts and bolts of actually applying to college; one is geared toward juniors and focuses on the things they should know and do as they start their research into potential colleges; the third is for younger students and their families with a focus on the steps they can take in regard to long-term planning. At the beginning of each presentation -- no matter the age of the audience -- I say that no one is behind, no matter how much or how little they have done to get to that point. For the seniors, I follow up that statement by telling them they’ve run out of time to procrastinate and it’s time to get to work. But for the younger families, I tell them that anything they are doing early is going to benefit them in the long run. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has complained about being TOO well-prepared for their college application process.
2. This is not a “one size fits all” process.
I wish it were! But there are so many variables from student to student, from college to college, and from year to year that there can be significant fluctuation and unpredictability in regard to individual college applications and acceptances. Simply put, your college application experience is not going to be directly comparable to anyone else’s, although we may be able to see overlaps or draw parallels to students who came before you.
3. This is nothing to stress about.
Yes, the entire college admissions process is made up of a bunch of little parts that can be stressful. BUT, stress is not a totally productive emotion, and there are other reactions that would serve you better in navigating this process... rather than being overwhelmed by the entire process, though, just try and take it one piece at a time. Think of it this way…
4. The entire college application process is a TEST-- of planning, time management and stress management.
These are all skills that will serve you well at college and beyond! I do caution students who tend to procrastinate that they are at risk of getting stressed out if they try and apply that approach to this process. For younger families, all sorts of planning can be done ahead of time in terms of visiting campuses or setting financial or geographic parameters as a starting point. For older students, the key is to avoid procrastination! Realistically, students should come into their senior year with a list of schools they’ve already visited and definitely want to apply to, as well as a list of target dates for applications to be submitted.
5. The college admissions process is (mostly) a meritocracy...
Colleges are ultimately looking for students and will judge their applicants primarily on their accomplishments as students. More relevant, many colleges (and high schools like PC) compile and share data with prospective students, showing the average GPAs and test scores of their latest acceptances. From my side of it, showing these numbers help give students a ballpark figure of what they should have in order to have a realistic shot at getting into a particular school. I would never discourage a student from applying to any school even if they aren’t aligned with the data, but it helps put their chances into perspective and can highlight the importance of having a backup plan as well.
6. ...and the college admissions process is also a lottery.
I realize this contradicts my previous point a little, but truthfully, the college meritocracy has a degree of human error attached to it. Yes, we can look back at previous years and get a sense of the average GPA or test scores that it might take to get admitted to a certain college, but that still doesn’t guarantee you anything. There is, unfortunately, one factor that we have no control over no matter what your grades or how long you’ve planned for college applications, and that is everyone else in the applicant pool. We never know how you stand in comparison to everyone else who is applying to a college in a certain year, and the strength of the applicant pool is another one of those factors that fluctuates year-by-year.
7. The goal should be finding the right fit.
The two starting point I give students as they begin researching colleges are:
Does this school have what I want to study? If I don’t know what I want to study, then do they give me enough options so that I’ll have plenty to choose from?
Can I see myself being comfortable living in this school’s environment for the next four years?
While academic pursuit is the primary reason for wanting to attend college in the first place, the second factor should be just as important for students in choosing a particular college. Nothing beats visiting campuses -- as many as possible -- and figuring out what you like and don’t like about potential schools. Remember, colleges are not just looking for students; they are looking for individuals who are going to become active members of their campuses and communities. And from the student’s side of things, no other factor can replicate how comfortable a college feels to you, and this is one factor that no one can predict for you.
8. There IS a college for everyone.
There are thousands of college in the United States! Big colleges, small colleges, public, private, four-year, two- year, faith-based, single-gender, etc. Long story short: there really is a college for everyone if you’re willing to look. I’ve yet to meet a student who wanted to go to college but could not find at least one school that suited him. I promise it’s out there somewhere!
9. This process is not reflective of you as a person.
The best advice I could ever give about this is something that one of my former students shared with me. While she was disappointed about one of the decisions that she received back from a college, she realized (in time) that the colleges were only judging her on “like, nine pieces of paper.” No individual can be boiled down neatly into nine pieces of paper! Yes, students may get disappointing results, but even a “wrong” decision is not reflective of you as a person, or what you are capable of accomplishing at another institution.
10. Everything is going to be fine.
In all of my years of working with high schoolers navigating the college application process, every student who wanted to attend a college has been accepted to at least one school. Visit, research, and ask questions! Stressing over the process is not productive… but planning is. Focus your energy on that, and you’ll make it.
Dan Batkin has served as the the college and career counselor at Peninsula Catholic since 2011.