College Admission for Mere Mortals
I recently met with a potential student client and their family. The student was serious about their academics and had many compelling ideas about their future. They enjoyed school but were honest about their strengths and weaknesses in different classes.
The student had a list of exciting and enjoyable extracurricular activities. Most importantly, they were not consumed by the stress of the many unknown elements of a college application process.
A Myriad of Questions
The family had a lot of questions about college admission and whether the student made the proper academic and extracurricular choices to set them up for a great college experience.
As the meeting progressed, I noticed their anxiety building, and the questions started to come more quickly. Should their student take AP classes? And if so, how many? Do they need to catch up on their volunteer hours? What’s the most impressive summer program they should apply to? How exactly do they get into a good college? Have they made the right choices along the way?
And, finally: Is this going to turn out OK?
I hoped to reassure them as much as I could by sharing the following:
- The frantic race that many believe is required to get into a “good” college is not a necessary part of the experience of applying to college. It is a choice with good and bad consequences (https://www.mercered.com/the-second-rule-of-applying-to-college/). You can choose not to enter the race and still have a life-changing college experience.
- Exchanging happiness, well-being, and health for untold hours devoted to more extracurriculars, AP classes, and more hours of SAT preparation is rarely worth the trade-off. This is true for high school and college admission and likely at any other time. (https://www.mercered.com/the-first-rule-of-applying-to-college/).
- Statistics do not lie. No matter how talented, kind, intelligent, and unique students are, they are not the exception when it comes to selective admission (https://www.mercered.com/the-sixth-rule-of-applying-to-college-you-are-not-the-exception/).
- Most students blindly go to great lengths to pursue fantastic extracurricular activities and just end up looking the same as every other intelligent, talented applicant (https://www.mercered.com/leave-your-passion-project-at-the-door/).
- Getting rejected from a college is nothing to fear or get stressed about. Rejection is a part of life. If a desirable, well-known university rejects a student, it only means that when one door closes, another opens (https://www.mercered.com/the-fourth-rule-of-applying-to-college/).
After this somewhat breathless rant, I paused. I waited to see the signs of stress continue to ramp up. But I saw smiles all around. Then the student said, “You mean I don’t have to make myself nuts like everyone around me?”
My answer was, “Well, yes.”
An Eye-Opening Reminder
I was then reminded of the terrible pressure many students feel regarding college admission; who they are is not enough. I realized what it feels like to be surrounded by this kind of pressure when there is simply no reason to make college admission such a stressful and complicated endeavor.
Don’t get me wrong; I profoundly believe that the entire experience of applying to college (not just the result of a decision letter arriving in the mail) is an essential rite of passage. I understand applying to college is a decision that should not be taken lightly. But that does not mean you have to sacrifice your well-being to have a rewarding college experience.
This meeting reminded me to push back even harder against the notion that applying to college requires everyone to enter a frantic race to get into a “good” school. I am reminded that choosing classes in high school should focus on learning and appropriate challenges rather than an obsessive focus on bringing up a GPA by a tenth of a point.
A “Mere Mortals” Takeaway
The best extracurricular activities are those that the student enjoys. The ideal summer includes more time to relax, hang out with friends and family, and participate in activities many high school students do not experience during the school year. I urge students to consider a summer job, travel, spending time outdoors, reading for personal pleasure, or going to camp.
Extracurricular activities that rival a full-time adult job are not authentic, realistic, healthy, or necessary.
If you want to approach the college admission process as a “mere mortal,” please contact me. I would love to introduce you to all the wonderful opportunities students have today to know themselves better through the application process.