It’s December and ‘tis the season… for college admissions. With application season in full swing, and with all the talk regarding who’s applying where, or what qualification will magically ensure admissions into that dearly sought-after “fill in the blank” school, it seems all too easy to fall into the judgement trap. Yes, the judgement trap…that trap that has many a student or parent measuring one’s collegiate candidacy potential in terms of numericals, be it GPA, test scores, demonstrated need, Naviance admit percents…you name it. Court is in session, belabored by a hung jury that scrutinizes all that you have done, should have done, and could have done, only to compare those doings with what “so-and-so” did that resulted in a hefty acceptance envelope from such-and-such elite university.
All this frenzied thinking drives you crazy, does it not? And it certainly does not help you enjoy the moment and embrace the powerfully transformative, self-reflective opportunity that the college application process, at its core, actually provides. Dare we say that starting now, the time has come to stop the masochism, and reframe the way you think about college admissions. We encourage you to think of college as something that is happening “for you” as opposed to something that is happening “to you.” In focusing too heavily on the “getting into college,” so many students and families are overlooking the ever more important question: What is it that you are going “to get out of college?” How is college going to grow you? Inspire you? Launch you into a meaningful, impactful career? Give you the tools to thrive instead of just survive as you step into the role of architect, a young adult finally given the reins to construct your education and the trajectory of your life? It all comes down to remembering WHY you are applying and how college can serve as mecca for you to hone-in on what excites you most and then embracing the opportunities, coursework, professors, and social experiences that allow for its full expression. Easier said than done, yes… Yet, if you have done your research and built a pinpointed, balanced list of “good fit” schools with YOUR criteria in mind, you needn’t believe everything you hear. Ultimately, you need not succumb to the stress.
“But, seriously?” you might ask. “What is the college application process if not just one giant, stress-inducing competition of who is the smartest/most deserving/best qualified student?” Our answer to that would be “so much more!”
Think of your application to your “well-matched school” as your opportunity to tell your story, help others understand who you are as you are beginning to understand that yourself, showcase the interests/talents/endeavors that make you weird…that make you unique…so that you aren’t like every other applicant. College admissions officers are not just looking for another generalist who can play every role they need to cast in their production of “Incoming Freshman Class.” They want to know what “specific role” you are right to play so that they can create a dynamic, well-rounded, interesting community of distinct individuals. They find it especially impressive when you, the student, can clearly articulate your unique role, the niche you will fill, the ways in which you will excel at their institution, and how how your experience there will enable you to give back/make a meaningful contribution to the school. Basically, it’s all about you. What they want is you. You taking the risk to expose who you are, what matters to you and why, and how you plan to do something about it. Too many students play it safe, hide behind their GPA’s and SAT/ACT/AP scores out of pride or out of fear, and leave the admissions team to do all the guessing work.
No, we are not going to lie. Stellar scores, solid GPA’s, and rigorous coursework will certainly open some eminent doors. But those factors alone are certainly not the end all be all. Many students are already vying to land the role of “academic powerhouse,” thereby giving those who can set themselves apart in other ways a real advantage. Yet not a stressful one…an authentic one. Embrace your weirdness. Pinball or pogostick enthusiast? Sure! An avid foodie with a 4.0 unweighted GPA and 2350 on his SAT vs. a passionate orator/captivating debater/poet who gave up some Honors/AP coursework opportunities and settled for 1800 on her SAT so that she could compete at the national level as well as allocate her time to mentoring younger wannabe debaters and volunteer at a local retirement home…. How about a student who struggled to find his niche freshman year, fell into maladaptive behaviors and spent sophomore year in and out of inpatient recovery programs, only to reacclimate junior year and emerge with a sense of awareness, gratitude, and maturity well beyond his years? YES, we have seen ALL of these students gain admissions to their own personal “Brown’s and “Yale’s.” In lieu of focusing on what the admissions officers want, they succeeded in letting the admissions officers know what they as students wanted and, in doing so, made all the more impact. Life school had provided them with the insight to play-up their assets, embrace their quirks, and tell their authentic story. They stood out. They defied Naviance. They used their application and their personal statements and their commitments to verbalize what they want and what they uniquely have to offer. And now all of these students are attending the school of their dreams and not anyone else’s!
Be wary of that inclination to compare yourself to all the other brilliant people around you as well as that all consuming, thankless notion of trying to be what the college admissions officers want. You cannot go back in time to change the B- you got in AP Physics, or force yourself to join the Model U.N. team in freshman year. Your worth is not tied up in gaining admittance to everyone else’s most sought-after institution; it comes down to how you feel about yourself and the ways in which you go about surrounding yourself with people that support you, environments that inspire you, and endeavors that help you move beyond the impossible to the “I’m possible.”
How do we shift our experience within the stress-infused cultural paradigm? Well, it begins with you.
Let’s take some advice from The Daily Love’s Mastin Kip:
“So, how do we stop judging ourselves? We accept ourselves right where we are. It is here that we step into taking action.”
Mastin tells us to begin by jotting down 5-10 things you don’t like about your academic profile: your freshman grades, your extracurricular activities section (or lack there of), your college list (yes, your college list…Let’s be real. Michigan is a perfectly fine university, but there’s no way ALL of us want to go to Michigan for any other reason than the fact that it’s, well, Michigan.). Whatever they are – just list them out. Good. Got it?
Now, look at that list.
Say out loud: “I accept _____ about myself.” Acknowledge each and every item on your list.
“I accept that I was too afraid to take AP Chem and fail, so I didn’t even try.”
“I accept that I spent too much time studying, and not enough time volunteering.”
“I accept that I wouldn’t want to go to Harvard, that it isn’t a good fit, that I wouldn’t be happy there, even if they accepted me”
Now consider taking the same amount of time to list out 5-10 strengths as well as pursuits that you have really enjoyed during your academic experience thus far: that spring break trip you took to Europe, the group of artsy friends you fell into during sophomore year (who turned out to be horrible influences, but taught you an invaluable lesson about your own values system), the TED talks you watched while procrastinating. Whatever they are — if they taught you something about yourself and what you like (not your parents, or guidance counselor, or snobby frenemies) — write them down. Great.
Now here’s the fun part. Look at your list again.
Say out loud: “I love _______ about myself.” Whatever is on the list. Go through it until you are done.
“I love that I spent so much time volunteering, because it made me realize that I want to spend my life helping others”
“I love that I didn’t stress myself out over my SATs, because I enjoyed writing the beginnings of my first novel so much more.”
“I love that I’m such a phenomenal test taker, because I can’t wait to be at a school full of other Type As who appreciate perfection as much as I do” Etc.
Take a long hard look at what you perceive to be your greatest assets — the gems of who you are and what you have experienced that have made you the happiest. Then, take a good look at the schools to which you are applying. Now, here is where it’s a good idea to make a judgement. Instead of asking “Will these schools want me?” ask yourself “Will these schools be a good fit for me?” A simple shift in focus changes the game. As soon as you start to perceive your strengths as assets to a campus, there is no longer a need to get caught-up in the harmful cycle of self-judgment and loathing. It is then that you realize if a school can’t see how AWESOME you are, then why would you want to go there in the first place? (Given you’ve carefully articulated your awesomeness to them in your application — remember, they’re not mind readers.) Once we begin to celebrate ourselves, we put our happiness and well-being at the forefront of our decisions. If you focus on fit, you’ll find a university that will enable you to thrive, and the question of “am I good enough?” will stop intruding your daily thoughts. Finally, you’ll be able to breathe and marvel at how far you’ve come. You’re about to graduate from high school and embark upon the most riveting journey of your young adult life! Rejoice!
So, how did you/will you decide which schools are worthy of all the greatness you have to offer? Let us know in the comments section, or on our Facebook wall.