There is often a “hot coal moment” for many families and students I work with. 

It is hard to predict when this moment will happen.

Sometimes, it happens immediately after students finish the junior year PSAT. Some parents get a nagging feeling they may be too late helping their student plan for college admission.

Other times, the hot coal moment may hit on the first day of summer vacation when students and parents start to think about their summer plans. When comparing their own plans with the summer plans of a friend who has enrolled in a summer program in artificial intelligence at a prestigious college or a neighbor who landed an internship at a hedge fund, some students start to experience an extreme case of college admission FOMO. 

More often than not, though, it happens at totally unexpected times. Without warning, a light bulb might go off when it feels like the student’s grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, etc., may not match up with vague assumptions about the minimum requirements the student needs to get into a “good” college.

Being Thrust into the College Admission Race

What do parents or high school students typically do when they feel like they are standing on hot coal? They start to run.

For these students, the college admission process feels like a race they have been thrust into that they do not ever recall how or when it began. But now they are in it, and others are in it with them. And so, their only response is to run as fast as they can to avoid the feeling they are just standing in place on hot coals while others are racing past them. 

Resigned to their fate, these students and families join the race to take more challenging classes, get higher test scores, and add more volunteer hours to their resumes—all so that their college applications can stand out. 

When a family contacts me the first time and says they believe they are “late getting started applying to college,” I know they have already had their hot coal moment. While I am glad they called, and I am confident I can help them and their student (no matter where they are in the complex process of applying to college), I am also a little concerned. More often than not, their hot coal moment may have already shaped their perspective so that some of my advice might fall on deaf ears. 

It’s NOT a Race!

It is easy to confuse the college application process with a race. But there are so many reasons why this is the wrong perspective.

  1. A race ends with winners and losers. Education is not an experience that ends with winners or losers. 
  2. The admission process may seem like a separate experience from getting an education. Many families reason that they will begrudgingly join the stressful race to “get their student into college” and believe that the “real” process of education, growth, and learning will begin after admission. The process of applying to college is not a means to an end. The application process is the beginning of a college education.
  3. A race typically starts at point A and ends at point B. The application process is similar in that it is a journey through several steps—a rite of passage from youth to adulthood. But the difference is profound. The starting and ending points for applying to college are not static. There is no standard starting block or finish line and no way to measure who “won.” It is tempting to find proxies for winning the “race” of college education, such as the name of a good college on a diploma or how much money the typical student makes after graduating, but these never sincerely measure how an individual student grows from the profound experience of going to college.
  4. The media and much of society insist that we identify the winners of the college application process. This is a shame. We do not insist on identifying the winners of other important institutions in society. No one reasonably believes there are those who win or lose in the experience of finding a life partner or getting married. No one measures the quality of how one lived their life by calculating the number of birthdays they celebrated. Why must we force the notion of measuring the winners and losers of a college education?

If you want to stop feeling like you’re running a race without clear goals, I would be happy to help you find a new perspective on the college admission process. Please feel free to contact me and allow my years of experience as an Independent Educational Consultant to benefit you and your student on your journey to a rewarding college selection experience.