I often remind students that they need to be realistic about their chances of admission to highly selective schools and resist the trap of believing they must get into one particular college (see “The Fourth Rule of Applying to College”). However, if a student is still determined to apply to a highly selective “dream” school, they must be willing to put forth a ton of effort and commitment toward this goal. It is often much harder than they think. 

Therefore, for these students, the fifth rule of applying to college is: you will never be admitted to your “dream” school if you are driving with the parking brake on. 

Getting Admitted to Your “Dream” College Does Not Happen by Accident

I grew up in Los Angeles—the land of freeways, cars, and traffic. I learned to drive as soon as I was old enough to get a driver’s license and have spent a lot of time in my car ever since. 

On a few occasions, I am embarrassed to say, I have had the experience of driving down the road with a strange feeling that something was wrong with the car, only to realize that I had forgotten to take the parking brake off. As soon as I released the brake, everything went back to normal, and the car moved smoothly down the road. 

Some students have an experience like this when applying to highly selective colleges. In this process, a “parking brake” is like an invisible force that holds you back from seriously tackling the application and focusing on the years of high school leading up to it.

The routes that students take to get admitted to a highly selective college can vary. Their “vehicle” (i.e. the combination of grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, etc.) will be unique from student to student. One applicant may be “driving” a Prius, another a Ferrari, and yet another a motorcycle. 

Colleges and universities want to admit all types. But, if you have the parking brake on—or in other words, you are hesitating or making excuses for why you are not studying as much as you should, missing assignments, and being distracted with too many extracurricular activities—then I can almost guarantee that you will not be admitted to a highly selective university. 

Signs That You May Be Riding Your “Parking Brake”

If you are driving with your parking brake on, it means there’s a disconnect between your passionate desire to be admitted to a highly selective university and the actual steps you’re taking to carry out that goal. 

That could mean, for example:

  • You’re missing deadlines. 
  • You don’t have a plan, or you do have a plan, but you’re making excuses about why you can’t implement it. 
  • You’re relying on other people such as parents, friends, or siblings to tell you what to do or keep you on track instead of doing that for yourself. 
  • You don’t know what the deadlines are, or you do know when the deadlines are but you miss them because you didn’t complete the tasks on time. 
  • You procrastinate and leave important time-consuming parts of the application such as essays, requesting letters of recommendation, scheduling visits to the last minute.

Taking the “Parking Brake” Off

What does it look like when a student is applying to college without the parking brake on? At its most basic level, taking the parking brake off first requires attending to cleaning up your “room” (see “How Can You Apply To College If Your Room Is A Mess?”). 

It’s very clear to me when I’m working with a student applying to highly selective universities who has released their parking brake. Not only do they complete the tasks I’ve assigned them on time and are open to honest feedback, but they also go above and beyond the minimum. They do not passively follow directions and wait for someone else to tell them what to do. Rather, these students are actively engaged in the entire process. 

For instance:

  • They thoroughly research the colleges they’re interested in, spend lots of time on essay drafts, and are well-organized. 
  • They’re following up multiple times with teachers and counselors who are writing letters of recommendation and sending transcripts to colleges. 
  • They start studying for their exams well in advance of test day. 
  • They devote a great deal of time honing their extracurricular skills doing activities that they also enjoy. 
  • They’re taking the initiative to ask questions. 
  • They take charge of the process and are very clearly in the driver’s seat.

While some high school students can be admitted to colleges even when bumbling through the application process, applying to the highly selective college of your dreams takes much more. If you want to go through this process in a way that feels satisfying and that makes you proud of putting your best foot forward, release that parking brake, put your car into gear, and go. 

Aside from not driving with my parking brake on, I have gained a lot of experience with the college application process in my many years as an Independent Educational Consultant. If you are interested in utilizing my knowledge to your advantage, please feel free to contact me.