As an Independent Educational Consultant, I provide expert guidance to support each individual student in their journey through the college admission process. To accomplish this, I am dedicated to helping students (and their families) set educational goals, organize their time, put a plan into action, and overcome any obstacles that present themselves.

Sadly, though, a small percentage of students and/or their families add additional obstacles to the process that make their experience of applying to college more difficult, less ethical, and less rewarding than it should be.

Here are three examples of things that make me cringe.

1. A Nonchalant Attitude Toward the Application Process

A student says, “I think I am going to apply to Harv-Prince-Stan because a friend suggested that I should, since… well… you never know.”

It is true that there have been situations where a counselor suggests to a student that they may not get into a particular college and, therefore, they probably should not apply. Then, the student applied anyways—and they got in! But, this is extraordinarily rare.

Most college counselors give wise advice, understand how college admission really works, and have the best interests of students in mind. College counselors do not want to be “dream killers” just to make the student feel bad. Therefore, it is pretty disappointing to us when a student does not take our advice seriously—especially about ultra selective universities.

As a counselor, it makes me cringe when, instead of focusing on finding great colleges that fit who they are right now as a scholar, a student simply applies to such a university because “you never know” which, in turn, directly contributes to the perpetuation of a cycle that contributes to some colleges being so extraordinarily selective.

This type of thoughtless reasoning is not how important decisions should be made. It is not sensible to make other big life decisions—an expensive purchase, the person who will be your partner, where you will live—in that way. Why would it be sensible for a college application?

2. Unnecessary Last-Minute Rewrite of an Essay

A student says, “I finalized my personal statement after nine drafts, and I felt great about it. Then I showed it to some friends, my mother, my father, and my uncle who is a writer. And they gave me some feedback. So, then I decided to throw away the old draft and start all over again. I have a brand new essay now. Would you look at it? It is due tomorrow.”

There are two reasons this kind of situation makes me nervous.

A) The ethics of essay writing may fall to the wayside, and the rewrite does not reflect the student’s voice.

In my experience, last-minute changes and major rewrites are likely never initiated by the student. They are initiated by caring, well-intentioned people who, nonetheless, are not looking at the essay writing process from an educational point of view. Rather, they simply see it from the perspective of wanting to get the student into a great college.

However, there are some deeply ingrained ethical considerations that some who help with and edit these essays may overlook. College application essays need to be written in the student’s voice, reflecting their ideas, even if this means that some of the grammar, turns of phrase, articulation of ideas is not perfect. Essays must represent the thinking and writing capacity of the student who is applying.

So, when a student shows their essay draft to multiple people who are not necessarily professional counselors and are not knowledgeable about the college admission process (even though they may think they are), the ethics of essay writing often fall to the wayside. Words, phrases, and ideas that are not the student’s own just get inserted. In the end, the essay does really not reflect the student’s voice but someone else’s voice.

B) The student likely thinks the essay is more important than it really is in the college application process.

If, for some reason, the student actually initiated the last-minute changes, they may think their personal statement was not unique enough or dramatic enough. Perhaps they are not happy because they feel that their essay is not special, or does not make them stand out.

When that is the case, it is likely the student had a great essay to start with. But they simply misunderstand the importance of the essay in the application process. Of course, it is important. But it is not the most important part.

A well-written essay that answers the prompt and is clearly organized—the result of brainstorming, hard work on various drafts, and good, ethical editing—is sufficient. Trying to go beyond that and somehow force the essay to be a dramatic piece of literature or an epic poem is unrealistic and unnecessary.

3. A Lack of Parental Involvement and Support

Parents/guardians say, “You know, we really just want our student to own this process by themselves. So, we have decided to step back and let them do it alone. Maybe you can tell us: Where is my student applying? When do they need to take the SAT? And what is their major?”

There are two sides to the issue of parental involvement and support.

On one hand, it is fantastic when a parent/guardian recognizes how important it is that they do not take over the college application process. They understand this is a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood for the student. And a lot of decisions should really be theirs.

On the other hand, some parents overdo this “stepping back” action. When they do not know where their student is applying, what majors they are considering, or when they are not aware of logistics and details (deadlines, test requirements), parents have stepped too far back.

A good college counselor can give advice on the pros and cons of certain choices the student faces. A counselor does not replace parents or guardians!

Parents need to be involved in the application process, exploring options with the student, and knowing what is going on. Of course, that means they need to walk a consistent but fine line between not taking over the process and not totally backing off.

As an experienced Independent Educational Consultant, I have helped many families navigate obstacles in the college application process. If you would like to know more, please visit my High School College Counseling page or contact me directly.