When I was in elementary school, I had an extraordinary opportunity to attend a sleepaway camp that specialized in competitive downhill snow skiing. The coaches were some of the most accomplished ski racers in Europe and the United States.

While I have the fondest memories of spending time on the mountain, challenging myself to fly down the slopes faster and faster each day, what I remember most is a curious exchange that happened toward the end of my time at camp. 

Let me recap the story.

An Early Lesson About Organization

I shared a room lined with bunk beds with my fellow nine-year-olds. Early one morning, after breakfast and before heading off to the slopes, one of the most respected coaches burst into our room urging us to hurry to the bus so that we would not be late. However, before he could get the words out of his mouth, he stopped dead in his tracks, eyes wide open, head slowly swiveling from side to side with an astonished look on his face.

All of us in the room stared at him, waiting to hear what he was going to say. None of us had any idea what caused him to be so shocked into silence. 

Finally, at the top of his lungs, he exclaimed, “How can you ski when your room is a mess?” 

To my nine-year-old brain, it was as though he was literally speaking a foreign language. I could not understand what in the world he was talking about. Yes, of course, the room was a mess. It was exactly what you would imagine a small room shared by five 9-year-old boys—each with a large suitcase overflowing with parkas, long underwear, and thick socks, etc.—would look like. 

What I could not understand is what the messy room had to do with going out to enjoy the day. The coach shook his head, sighed, and walked away, clearly disappointed with us. We just shrugged and got on with our day, never giving the exchange another thought. 

A week later, when I returned home to my family and shared this story with them, they laughed and laughed. But I still did not get it. 

Until I became a college counselor.

Understanding the Importance of Organization

Through experience, I began to realize how vital attending to small details, such as a clean, organized room, can be before tackling an important and complicated task such as applying to college. 

Ultimately, I have come to understand that an organized room is not really the point. It does not really matter if the students I work with have a clean room or not. But having an organized physical space is, in my opinion, analogous to successfully applying to college. 

Organizing one’s physical space is conducive to cultivating a clean and ordered mental space. 

What Is the Lesson for College Applicants?

If a student I am working with is not committed to putting the time into all of the many steps required for college applications, then the process will be chaotic and potentially lead to an outcome that is less than satisfying.

Most students listen attentively to the advice I give to them when sitting down to meet. They take notes on the next steps. We plan when they will complete an important task. And, finally, they leave my office hopeful that a seemingly overwhelming process is a little simpler. Thus, the goal of going to college is a little more attainable. 

Still, too often, some students come back for our next meeting, having made zero progress on any of the tasks suggested or required. 

These students have not figured out how to clear the necessary mental space needed  for the work of applying to college. Just like my room at ski camp, some applicants struggle to manage a calendar that reveals a chaotic mess of homework, extracurricular activities, work, social activities, family responsibilities and not enough sleep —all before applying to college. 

My advice?

Clean up your “room” and make sure you devote time to keep it clean. What I mean is this: students should clean up their calendar weekly or monthly (and sometimes daily!) to authentically devote the time and mental space for the college application process. 

Some college counselors tell students that applying to college is in and of itself equivalent to an extracurricular activity. I agree. So, this might mean taking an extracurricular activity off of your plate so that you have room (i.e. time) to devote to your college application. This doesn’t necessarily apply to every student; I wouldn’t want anyone to give up an extracurricular activity that they love to apply to college. But if this is what it takes to create the mental space to mindfully apply to college, then it may be something to consider. 

If you would like personalized help with your college application, please contact me. I would be happy to use my many years of experience as an Independent Educational Consultant to demystify the process and help you stay organized through each step.