10 Tips for Staying Sane: College App Essays & Admissions Can Drive You Crazy

Thanks to the Edgartown Library, which hosted me talking about the madness that is applying to college in the 21st century. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

1.It’s normal to feel like you are going crazy. The process creates that, and the current atmosphere contributes. AND: There is an end date to the crazy. It won’t go on forever, even though it feels like it will

2. Don’t get too invested in one college/university – for yourself or your child. It’s great to have a top pick – yes, GO FOR IT! – but be open to others. Particularly when choosing schools that accept 5 or 10% of applicants, spare yourself heartache and heartbreak. Find other institutions that you love. They’re out there.

3. Admissions people in top universities say that 80% of the applicants can do the work required in those universities. A rejection is not an indictment of your talent, intelligence, or promise. There are simply too many super talented students for a limited number of spaces. Look widely for colleges. Don’t get stuck on the “usual suspects.”

4. Don’t Pull an All-Nighter the Night Before -AKA: Start Early.Whether it’s your search for the right college, your contacting teachers for letters of recommendation or writing your application essays, give yourself plenty of time. What’s the right timetable? It’s ideal to have your list of colleges by summer before application, with all the requirements and required essays spelled out; to have a good draft of the Common App essay by the time you return to school in the fall. If you’re applying to schools with many supplementary essays, be sure to understand that early and plan accordingly. If you have a very busy school-year schedule and many essays, use your time in the summer to do them.

5. Submit Your Applications Some Time Before the Due Dates. If you wait until the last days, you will be pressing SEND with HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of other students. Website crashes happen. DO NOT wait until the last few days to submit your applications, whatever your due dates are.

6. Diversify, diversity, diversify. Pick schools smartly and pick a range. Just as financial counselors tell people to diversify their investments to spread the risk of losing money, make sure your list includes reaches, targets and safeties. It’s not wise to have, say, 8 reaches and 1 safety. Research the schools and make sure your grades, scores and interests match up. Some students apply to many Ivy League and other top schools without understanding the differences between them in terms of curriculum, expectations, and atmosphere, and without understanding what the schools are looking for. Find out whether Top Dog University is the right school for you by reading about it in the resource books below. Numbers matter in the most selective institutions – grades, class rank, and standardized tests.

7. Consult resource books: These are both very student-family-friendly books. They have great commentary about the campus atmosphere, and some interesting statistics (Best 380 Colleges: rate professors by how interesting they are!) not just how many buildings and majors.

~ The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges (published every year), edited by the Yale Daily News (informative and irreverent student takes on their colleges, written by students, for students, in a lively voice).

~ Best 380 Colleges by the Princeton Review, new edition every year~ Excellent information about every aspect of a college or university: Very down to earth. Great statistics (professor “interesting” and “accessible” ratings – you’ll be surprised).

8. Financial aid. If you need aid, make sure you apply to schools where it would be available to you.

Many colleges have a “Net Calculator” you can plug in your numbers to and learn how much aid you might qualify for. State universities, including Michigan and UCalifornia, do not generally offer financial aid to out of state students.

9. Visit the schools, ideally when school is in session. If you are applying Early Decision (BINDING), visit the school so you can report you have visited on the application AND you can include reflections of your visit in your essay if you have to write about why you want to attend that school.

10. Consider applying Early Decision and/or Early Action (binding vs. nonbinding), so that your worries might be over by mid-December, instead of

March or April. Consult each school’s website to find out if they do ED or EA.

Upside: You might have decisions by mid-December. Downside: If you’re rejected or deferred in mid-December, you have to submit applications afterwards, usually with Jan. 1 or Jan. 15 deadlines. It’s wise to do as much work as you can before mid-December. Please keep in mind that many students who apply early can be deferred, so they do not learn results until March or April.

Contact Liz Benedict for a free consultation: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com 1-855-99-ESSAY