Most of the students and families I work with come to me to solve an urgent and, at times, painful problem. And I understand that the many steps involved in applying to college can seem overwhelming. Thus, it may feel like just one misstep can have dire consequences.
To solve this overarching problem, clients come to me for the answers to many smaller problems, such as how students can choose the right classes in high school to provide an academic edge or how to stand out above the crowd in their extracurricular activities. They may be seeking answers about the shifting landscape of standardized tests that are required or optional. They hope that I have the personal touch to help them write a “killer” essay. And, ultimately, they want to know how I can help them get into the most prestigious college that will guarantee them a life of monetary success, happiness, and the respect of friends and family.
A Simple Answer to a Complex Challenge
For decades, I have worked to become as much of an expert as I can in the college application process to answer all of the questions that students have so that I might play a small part in helping them achieve their college admission dreams. I pride myself on giving comprehensive and nuanced answers to all the questions that students have or, more importantly, help them to ask questions that they don’t even know they should be asking. And yet, I have found that no matter how hard the student or I work to seek answers to all the questions that arise during their college application journey, at the end of the day, it often feels like the results can be divided into only two different outcomes: 1) Students who are disappointed and 2) students who are thrilled with their admission decisions. (see the post “The Fourth Rule of Applying to College”)
Of course, I want all the students I work with to be happy with the outcome. So I endeavored to figure out what was different about the journeys of these two types of students. If I could find what was different, I could work backward and help more students be overwhelmed with happiness rather than disappointed.
At first, I thought it was just a question of becoming a better college counselor. Eventually, though, I felt that I needed to figure out how to help students do more, write better essays, discover the newest strategies to make them more competitive, and find better answers to their admission application questions. After a long time, when I saw that students still seemed to be divided on how they felt about their admission results, I realized that I was going in the wrong direction.
It was then that I made a remarkable discovery. I realized that there was a simple answer to this challenge. It was as easy as flipping a switch. The answer to having a great college application outcome is not a better college list, writing a better essay, taking more AP classes, getting a higher test score, loading up on more extracurricular activities, or visiting more colleges. The answer is mindset.
The Power of the Right Mindset
According to Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, there are two mindsets: fixed and growth.
These labels do an excellent job of suggesting what each mindset is about. A student with a fixed mindset looks outside of themselves for external validation. They prioritize test scores or getting admitted to a specific college (more often than not, a highly selective college that everyone considers highly prestigious) to validate their self-worth.
A student with a growth mindset cares less for external validation and, instead, looks inside themselves to judge whether they’ve done an excellent job. They do not get caught up in the outcome alone but think about the effort they put into the college application process throughout the journey. And they understand that if they fail to achieve a goal (especially the goal of admission to a highly selective college), they still have every opportunity to continue to work hard to live a fulfilling life in college, career, and beyond.
This simple but profound contrast makes the difference between feeling great about the outcome of the college application journey and feeling disappointed.
Embracing a Growth Mindset
When I begin working with a high school student, their mindset is usually set well before we meet. Mindset is a result of many factors.
Unfortunately, I have not discovered how to change another person’s mindset. But because I now know that mindset is not fixed but can change, I know where to focus when talking with students and families so that more and more students can embrace a growth mindset.
I’m an Independent Education Consultant with many years of experience in navigating the college admissions process. If you would like to tap into my expertise to help make your college application journey a happy one, I invite you to contact me.