Does your counselor know about Apply with Sanity?

Dear friends and readers of Apply with Sanity,

If you enjoy the content here and/or find it useful, will you please take a moment to send it to your favorite high school counselor? I'd love their feedback and suggestions. But mostly I just want them to know that I'm here to support their mission.

Send 'em a link with a short explanation of why you like Apply with Sanity. Let them know I'm listening.

Thanks!

 

Anyone can follow Apply with Sanity on the web, on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or at the monthly newsletter.

Jack has sent his applications

Jack has now applied to 14 colleges, and it looks like that will be his final list. Here are his responses to questions I asked him at the beginning of the year. 

Meet the Class is an opportunity for parents, educators, and admissions professionals to get a look at individual seniors and what they go through to find their college.

It’s updated each month from September to May. Each month will feature an interview about both the facts and the feelings of where the student is in the process.

Interviews may be edited lightly for clarity and grammar. 

This is the fifth interview with Jack,  a senior in the Houston area. He attends a public magnet high school. 

Last month you said you'd been deferred by Yale when you applied early, and you seemed really happy about that. I'm wondering: why are you happy about being deferred by Yale? Is it simply because it's not a denial? Or did you have a change of heart about Yale? I've never heard anyone happy to be deferred, so I'm curious what the thought is.

Oh that's a great question! I'm sure that part of it comes from trying to maintain a positive outlook, because I was still disappointed that I wasn't accepted, but part of it also comes from a feeling of validation, because, to me, the deferral meant that I was still qualified to attend Yale for whatever reasons even when there were a lot of times where I felt like I might've not been. 

At the beginning of last month, you were still very active in terms of submitting applications and deciding where all to apply. Where have you applied to this month? Did you have any more interviews or visits?

This month, I applied to Brown, Pitzer, Pomona, Brandeis, WASHU St. Louis, Tufts, and Wesleyan by the beginning of January, and then American, Occidental, and Oberlin by January 15. No interviews or visits, but I have a few requested / in-processing for Brown, Tufts, and I think a couple other schools.

I know that your Yale application is out there, and that you’ve interviewed with Yale. Can you tell me how your interview went? Where did you do it? With who? Were there any surprises? What was your state of mind throughout?

It was with a Yale alumus--a CFO of a coffee and beer distributor I think--and we did it at his office. The interview went OK; it wasn't great, and it wasn't bad either. I felt really nervous, but prepared, however, I kind of felt like my interviewer wasn't taking it too seriously. With the way the interview was unfolding, I got the sense that my interviewer was building off the premise that I was already a very talented and competitive applicant, since that's the type of student who applies to Yale, and that he would write up a great report no matter what I said. And that sucked a little bit because I felt like I was on the cusp of being an academically competitive applicant, so I really wanted to take advantage of the interview to highlight my non-academic strengths and convey some of the things I couldn't communicate as well on paper. My interview moved the interview in a way where he talked more about Yale than I could talk about myself, so I felt a little boxed in in a sense. Still, I was able to drop in a couple of my major accomplishments, and I think we developed a decent rapport, so overall, it was good, but it also could've been better.

What did you decide on Reed? I get the sense it’s either a top choice or not on the list at all. Did you figure out what was drawing you to it?

I think I was really drawn to Reed because of the their culture, which seemed super individualistic and intellectual and had a particular focus on the humanities and liberal arts. I also really liked that their idea of school spirit is grounded in these values rather than its being centered on athletics. I was also really attracted to the idea of Portland, which is a city that also seemed to value individualism and is reflected in its vibrant and omnipresent arts and culture scene which I really wanted to be a part of. However, I ultimately decided not to apply to Reed because I decided I valued diversity more.

Do you have any clear favorites at this point? What, at this point, is your “dream” scenario?

I love all of the schools on my list, but if I get into Brown or Yale, that would be really exciting. I care about a school's name-brand and prestige to some degree, but it's not a major factor I considered too much when I was building my college list; if I get into any of the schools I apply to (especially with good financial aid offers), my parents and I would be really happy. However, my parents don't have a lot of knowledge surrounding higher education here in the States, but if I get into a school like Brown or Yale, my parents would have an immediate understanding of how successful that is--whereas if I got into something like Pomona, it doesn't immediately translate into being successful, even when Pomona is actually harder to get into than Brown. Getting into schools like Brown and Yale holds a lot of weight in terms of validating the risks and sacrifices my parents have made in immigrating here and building a life in America, so my dream scenario would probably involve being accepted into one of these schools.  

How was your break? Were you consumed with college work, or did you get to relax?

My break was great! I struck a good balance between being productive and having a good time, and I didn't feel too overwhelmed, especially since a lot of the essays and supplements I wrote for scholarships and colleges that I've submitted already were recyclable.

As of last month, this was your list:

U Houston (applied)
UT Austin (applied)
Yale (applied)
UT San Antonio (applied)
Occidental
Brown
Pitzer
Tufts
Oberlin
Rice
Wesleyan
Reed
Wash U in St Louis
Trinity
Pomona
American

What changes have you made to that?

I added Brandeis to my list and ended up not applying to Rice!

 

Thanks for reading! There will be monthly updates from Jack through May. You can follow Jack and all the content on Apply with Sanity at the web site, Twitter, Facebook, and the monthly newsletter. Please share this with someone who would like to read it. 

It's time to say "thank you"

For most high school seniors, the active part of school applications is winding down. Now is the time for waiting. While you're waiting to hear from schools and thinking about how to choose from your acceptances, take some time to write some thank you notes. Write one to everyone who has done something for you along the way: teachers who wrote recommendation letters, counselors who sent off transcripts, college admissions personnel who answered questions, people who took time to interview you. Everybody. They gave some of their time to help you, and you should thank them if you haven't already.

Do it in writing. I hope you remembered to thank people along the way in person, but also send a written note. While there are plenty of people out there who still insist that you should only send hand-written thank you notes, most of the time email is really just fine. If you have less-than-great handwriting or don't happen to have good stationary ready to go, then email is probably better. Be specific in what you're thanking them for: "thank you for taking the time to write and send recommendation letters," or "thank you again for the time you spent with me in our interview." Also let them know that you appreciate their time and expertise. 

Do it individually, not in batches. No matter how alike they may sound, send every thank you note individually. Use the person's name. I can tell you from experience that being included on a "thanks to all of you" email with 11 other people doesn't particularly feel like being appreciated. And on that note, even if the only reason you're sending a thank you is because your mother is making you, don't tell people that.

Gifts can be tricky. You may be tempted to include a thank you gift. Honestly, you probably shouldn't. If you're sending a gift to a person at a university while your application is still being processed, it can look like an attempted bribe. Same goes for giving a gift to a teacher before they've sent out the recommendation. If you decide that it is appropriate to give a small gift, then be thoughtful about it. Their are very few adults in the world thinking "I sure wish someone would bring me another coffee mug!" People who don't drink coffee may be tired of receiving Starbucks gift cards. People on diets probably don't want candy, and a huge percentage of adults think of themselves as on diets. While there may actually be some teachers or conuselors who want a piece of leftover birthday cake or your first attempt to bake cookies, they probably don't think it's a good thank you gift. Unless you know the person well enough to really know something that they want, you should probably just stick to a note. 

Don't wait. You're thanking the person for their time and effort, not your results. So don't wait until you hear back from colleges and only send thank you notes to people associated with the ones who accepted you. (Yes, I've seen students do this.)

Follow up. If a teacher, counselor, or other adult helps you in any way with a college application, follow up and let them know how it went. I've had students who I spent several hours with looking over essay drafts, writing recommendation letters, or giving advice who never told me where they ended up going. Don't get people emotionally invested and then leave them hanging!

If it helps, here is an example of a basic thank you note:

Dear Ms. Washington,

Thank you again for writing recommendation letters for me to Stanford and the University of Alabama. I know you don't write them for everyone, and I'm honored you would spend time to do that for me. Wherever I end up going to school, I know that my experience in your class will have me prepared. I'll let you know when I hear back from the colleges!

Thanks again.

 

Note: this blog post originally ran on January 19, 2017.

Please share this with anyone who would like to read it. You can follow Apply with Sanity on the web site, on Facebook, or on Twitter. All the blog posts plus other goodies are sent out monthly with the newsletter. Thanks for reading!

"Break is over. Now What?" 9th grade edition

Work at being good at high school

You're half way through your first year of high school, and there's so much to deal with. There are often a lot of positive things associated with this time: establishing new friendships and networks, trying out interesting electives, learning practical skills. But there's also plenty of negative things to deal with: disappointment, feeling overwhelmed, feeling disorganized, having difficulty figuring out where you belong. Take time--not just once but at least once a week--to identify what's going well and what isn't. What are the positives to accentuate and the negatives to eliminate? Being self-aware and honest with yourself is going to help you get through this year, and if you'll stay in that habit will help you every year of high school and beyond.

Improve your grades. Set modest and achievable goals--like improving your grade in each class by just three points--and track your progress at that goal. Do this in a positive way by studying a little harder and giving an extra half hour of effort, but also do this in a negative way in the sense of working to eliminate one bad habit or time-waster. 

Look for a mentor. Maybe you've already got a teacher, coach, or counselor who is a mentor to you. If not, go find one. You need to have at least one non-family adult who you trust to give you advice, to listen to you, and to have an academic relationship with beyond the time in the classroom. Maybe your school has provided you a mentor though some sort of advocacy program, but maybe that teacher is not really going to be a mentor to you for whatever reason. 

Continue to explore your interests. Remember that the whole point of education is to help you be a productive, happy, and interesting person. You can’t and shouldn’t wait until some future date to start working on those things. Explore activities and interests that you haven’t before. Try out a new club, sit somewhere different for lunch, find an interesting question to ask a teacher you haven’t connected with yet. The great thing about high school is that you get to do a lot of growing and changing and developing—you’re not stuck being the same person you were at the beginning of this year. But the hard part is that you are in charge of that growth and development; it can’t happen passively. So try new things, read new things, listen to new things, talk about new things, think new things.

Build confidence and clarity. There are dozens of ways to actively reduce your stress and build your confidence. If you haven’t yet, try at least one. Practice meditation; begin a workout routine; join a book club; take a low-stress online course; take on an art project; volunteer; write a short story; find a mentor; be a mentor.

Make summer plans

This is the same advice I have for 11th and 10th graders. 

If you need to work or want a job, that's great. As far as college is concerned it really doesn't matter what that job is so long as you work hard at it and are reflective about what you learn from the job. As you go to work, remind yourself to work as hard as you can. And when you're done, ask yourself what you learned from that day's work. Those two things matter so much more to everyone than the job title or name of the company. 

If you don't need to work, then make other plans. And here's the trick: treat it like a job, in the sense that you decide to do your best and be reflective. Even if you have the cushiest summer imaginable--maybe you're going to spend two months as a VIP on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean--you can still get a lot out of this. Just begin each day reminding yourself to make the most of the day, and end each day reflecting about what you learned. Whatever is you do, it can be useful for your college applications and useful for your productive and interesting life.

Another way you can make sure you make the most of your summer is to give yourself a goal of 20. Make 20 visits to local museums or parks. Have 20 intentional interactions with older members of your family asking them about their experiences. Read 20 books. Watch 20 of the best movies of all time. Find 20 items to donate to charity. Run 20 miles, spread out over as many days as you need. The number 20 is arbitrary, but an arbitrary number helps make a vague idea an achievable goal. Every time you knock out one of your 20, remind yourself to be deliberate and reflective.

Sitting around "doing nothing" is the enemy of any smart and ambitious student.

Make fall plans

In his 5th century B.C.E. classic The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that the battle is won or lost before it even begins, because it is the preparation that wins the battle. Sports coaches love to repeat this wisdom about games being won during practice. The same principle applies to you and college admissions: the more you prepare now, the better it's going to be when the deadlines come.

"Break is over. Now what?" 10th grade edition

Work at being good at high school

Everyone’s experience is different, I get that. But there’s a really good chance that this semester is going to be your Golden Age. For one, you’re almost half way through high school and have got the hang of it. You’re not a clueless and picked-on Freshman any more. You’ve cultivated relationships with fellow students and, hopefully, a teacher or two. And also, the big jump to more rigorous courses and more college pressure usually doesn't begin in full until the 11th grade. 

So now is your time to shine. There are a few things you should do:

Improve your grades. Set modest and achievable goals--like improving your grade in each class by just three points--and track your progress at that goal. Do this in a positive way by studying a little harder and giving an extra half hour of effort, but also do this in a negative way in the sense of working to eliminate one bad habit or time-waster. 

Continue to explore your interests. By now you don’t need anyone to remind you that school is about more than the classroom. 10th grade is when a lot of people make the move to leadership positions in clubs and teams, to getting after-school jobs, to driving, to dating. It’s also when you see a lot more people get into parties, alcohol, and drugs. You know all this, so just let me remind you to stay focused on you. Think about your interests, explore new ones, and work toward building some kind of expertise. Whether moving toward High Achievement or Dropout Prevention, it’s all too easy to get caught up in some Flow that doesn’t really fit you. Resist this. Get help when you need it.

Build confidence and clarity. There are dozens of ways to actively reduce your stress and build your confidence. If you haven’t yet, try at least one. Practice meditation; begin a workout routine; join a book club; take a low-stress online course; take on an art project; volunteer; write a short story; find a mentor; be a mentor.

Make summer plans

This is the same advice I have for 11th graders. 

If you need to work or want a job, that's great. As far as college is concerned it really doesn't matter what that job is so long as you work hard at it and are reflective about what you learn from the job. As you go to work, remind yourself to work as hard as you can. And when you're done, ask yourself what you learned from that day's work. Those two things matter so much more to everyone than the job title or name of the company. 

If you don't need to work, then make other plans. And here's the trick: treat it like a job, in the sense that you decide to do your best and be reflective. Even if you have the cushiest summer imaginable--maybe you're going to spend two months as a VIP on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean--you can still get a lot out of this. Just begin each day reminding yourself to make the most of the day, and end each day reflecting about what you learned. Whatever is you do, it can be useful for your college applications and useful for your productive and interesting life.

Another way you can make sure you make the most of your summer is to give yourself a goal of 20. Make 20 visits to local museums or parks. Have 20 intentional interactions with older members of your family asking them about their experiences. Read 20 books. Watch 20 of the best movies of all time. Find 20 items to donate to charity. Run 20 miles, spread out over as many days as you need. The number 20 is arbitrary, but an arbitrary number helps make a vague idea an achievable goal. Every time you knock out one of your 20, remind yourself to be deliberate and reflective.

Sitting around "doing nothing" is the enemy of any smart and ambitious student.

Make fall plans

In his 5th century B.C.E. classic The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that the battle is won or lost before it even begins, because it is the preparation that wins the battle. Sports coaches love to repeat this wisdom about games being won during practice. The same principle applies to you and college admissions: the more you prepare now, the better it's going to be when the deadlines come.

Grace has time to reflect

Meet the Class is an opportunity for parents, educators, and admissions professionals to get a look at individual seniors and what they go through to find their college.

It’s updated each month from September to May. Each month will feature an interview about both the facts and the feelings of where the student is in the process.

Interviews may be edited lightly for clarity and grammar. 

This is the fifth interview with Grace. Grace is a senior in the Houston area. She attends a public magnet high school. 

Grace Profile.jpg

You’d sent off all your applications by the beginning of December. Have you heard anything yet? I believe U of H has rolling admissions, but I don’t know how quickly things turn around during the holidays. Did you submit your CSS profile?

I haven't heard back from any schools yet :(. It's very nervewracking and I find myself checking my mailbox almost every day for a letter. Three schools are regular decision (Lafayette, Trinity, Bryn Mawr), and I expect to hear around March. I have not turned in my CSS profile, and it's been slipping my mind to complete it. 

You said that the University of Houston is your safety school. How happy or unhappy do you think you’ll be if that’s where you end up? 

Honestly, I will be happy to attend UH. I have already received merit aid, and it covers half of each year, and including my FAFSA, I may be going full ride. The idea of UH has become more and more of a real possibility as I start looking at finances and graduate school. I do have hesitations and that's mostly due to the stigma against UH at [my high school]. People tend to look down at the acceptance rate, but for many UH is a good option, especially since they give a lot of aid to [our] students. I think it's a really dumb stigma to have, especially since we could potentially go for free, and have time to work, relax (we need it after 4 years) etc. 

What, to you, would be the best scenario? A full ride to Lafayette and denials everywhere else so there’s no more decisions to be made? An ego-boosting competition between Lafayette and Bryn Mawr to get you? What would be the perfect ending to the the college application season to you?

I think the hardest part about college admissions is the decisions, I would rather prefer the decision to be made for me. The goal of free colloge has always been something that I prioritized during my college search. While I would be dejected from not being accepted into other schools, I think being able to go to Lafayette for free would be an amazing opportunity and give me that push I need to get me out there. 

Are you doing any college-related things while you wait to get responses from everyone? Were you able to do any tours over the break like you hoped? Are you applying to any scholarships or summer programs? What does the “down time” actually look like to you? Is it less busy or anxious?

I have applied to an Asian American scholarship program after finishing my applications because I felt so excited. While I haven't done any tours over the break, I feel a little more comfortable with being pushed out of my comfort zone. As for summer, I might just want some downtime with my family and friends especially if I leave for Pennsylvania. My downtime has been more like work time. I have been tutoring longer hours, and more sessions (which is great for my bank), and working at my church to prepare the students for retreats and such. I have been volunteering more and more, and I think my constant action is due to the workload at school. During the first week of break, I felt so anxious to do something that I had to go out every day because I felt like something needed to be done. By the second week I had mellowed out and regret not being able to sleep more :(

Have you done any reflecting on the application process yet? How do you think you did? Is there anything that, in hindsight, you’d do differently? Any advice for sophomores and juniors?

I honestly should have applied early action for all of my schools. I feel so nervous for these letters and I honestly want to start making decisions and be sure of where I want to be. 

What does your spring semester look like? Do you have any changes to your scheule?

I have no changes in my schedule, I have a lot of mandatory classes as well as an extra elective, and science class. It feels very nice to have a set schedule and still take the classes I like. Although I would like to leave early to go home, I do want to take advantage of these classes while they are still free. 

"Break is over. Now what?" 11th grade edition

Dates & Deadlines

SAT: March 10 (register by February 9); May 5 (register by April 6); June 2 (register by May 3)

ACT: February 10 (register by January 12); April 14 (register by March 9); June 9 (register by May 4); July 14 (register by June 15)

AP Exams: May 7-18

Work at being good at high school

The best way to prepare for college is to be a good high school student, and there may be no more important semester of high school--as far as college planning is concerned--than this semester. When admissions counselors look at you transcript next fall, this semester is the most recent and full picture they have. While they'll look at all your grades and activities, the junior year is more important. It lets them see how you perform in more rigorous classes and more leadership roles than you're likely to have in the 9th and 10th grade. 

You don't need to get stressed or anxious about this. It doesn't require anything extra from you. But it does require that you give this spring all that you have, that you be fully engaged and active. If you have any circumstances that require you to scale back your efforts this semester or are getting in the way of your success, begin thinking about how you will talk about those circumstances with colleges.  If you find yourself falling behind, take the time to talk with your teachers and family about how to catch up. If you need emotional help, go get it. Don't wait.

A lot of the pressure that smart and ambitious high school students have to deal with is the idea that one wrong move or bad grade will ruin your chances of getting into a "good" school. This isn't true. But it will require some additional effort over the next year. If the first half of the year was disappointing--11th grade is often the toughest year for high school students--you still have time to get things back on track. Talk it over with adults you trust and look for concrete changes that you can make.

Reach out to colleges

By now you've probably got a good idea of what type of college you think will be good for you, and you've likely got some schools in mind. If you haven't done so yet, reach out to them now. As a starter, check out their admissions web pages and read what's there. If there's an easy way to ask for more information or get on a mailing list, do it. If there's an easy way to ask a question, ask it. Some schools will even make it clear on their web site the name of the admissions counselor for your area. Remember their name and reach out to them. If you find yourself feeling anxious, remember that this process isn't about proving that you're worthy. This is just an introduction, a saying "hello." It's not going to hurt you or count against you.

If you don't have a good idea yet where you might like to look, do some exploring. Try this: think of three states you might like to live in. For each of those states, spend some time looking online at their big state university, a liberal arts college in that state, and at least one other school in that state. In this case, it's ok to search for "best colleges in...." Don't take the list's word that those schools are indeed the best for you, but it's a staring point to look around. I was talking with some friends recently, and we agreed that applying to college before the internet mostly meant that everyone applied to four out of the six colleges that they'd heard of. Now that you have a chance to hear about virtually all the schools, take advantage of that.

Once you find something that looks interesting to you, reach out to that school. This reaching-out process is really important, but not necessarily for obvious reasons. Even though some schools take "demonstrated interest" into account, it's not real likely that filling out an on-line form in your junior year is going to be the one thing that gets you accepted to a school that would otherwise reject you. It's also unlikely that an admissions counselor will, a year from now, remember your name and feel more inclined to be generous. The reason reaching out is really important is because it helps to shift your own mindset. Proactively reaching out to schools and taking that initiative reminds you that you're not just a passive product to be offered to colleges. The power in the relationship isn't only with the schools--you also have a voice in asking questions, making decisions, and finding what's right for you. When you treat the process like finding a good person for a relationship, then you understand that you have to be an active participant.

Talk to 12th graders about college

If you're in the 11th grade, then you know 12th graders. Talk to them about college. Ask them where they applied and why. Ask them how they went about their search. Ask them where they thought about applying but didn't. Ask them for advice. Be a good listener when they talk about their own experiences. 

Lots of schools have some sort of get-together where graduates get to come back and give advice about college. If your school has this option then go, and listen carefully to what they say. Ask them not only about their college experiences, but about their application experiences. Remember not to take any of their advice--or anybody's for that matter--as the only or best advice. What worked for them may not be appropriate for you.

Make summer plans

Here's where I'm supposed to give very pointed mandates about thinking strategically and making plans for this summer that best align with your college goals and help "round out your resume," whatever that means. But really I can't make myself do that. Because it really doesn't matter so long as you do something and you're thoughtful about it.

If you need to work or want a job, that's great. As far as college is concerned it really doesn't matter what that job is so long as you work hard at it and are reflective about what you learn from the job. As you go to work, remind yourself to work as hard as you can. And when you're done, ask yourself what you learned from that day's work. Those two things matter so much more to everyone than the job title or name of the company. 

If you don't need to work, then make other plans. And here's the trick: treat it like a job, in the sense that you decide to do your best and be reflective. Even if you have the cushiest summer imaginable--maybe you're going to spend two months as a VIP on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean--you can still get a lot out of this. Just begin each day reminding yourself to make the most of the day, and end each day reflecting about what you learned. Whatever is you do, it can be useful for your college applications and useful for your productive and interesting life.

Another way you can make sure you make the most of your summer is to give yourself a goal of 20. Make 20 visits to local museums or parks. Have 20 intentional interactions with older members of your family asking them about their experiences. Read 20 books. Watch 20 of the best movies of all time. Find 20 items to donate to charity. Run 20 miles, spread out over as many days as you need. The number 20 is arbitrary, but an arbitrary number helps make a vague idea an achievable goal. Every time you knock out one of your 20, remind yourself to be deliberate and reflective.

Sitting around "doing nothing" is the enemy of any smart and ambitious student.

Make fall plans

In his 5th century B.C.E. classic The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that the battle is won or lost before it even begins, because it is the preparation that wins the battle. Sports coaches love to repeat this wisdom about games being won during practice. The same principle applies to you and college admissions: you get accepted to schools now, not next year.

Read the 12th grade edition here. 10th and 9th grade editions will be out next week. Keep checking back, and thanks for reading!

"Break is over. Now what?" 12th grade edition

Dates & Deadlines

There are two more SAT tests, on March 10 and May 5. There are also two more ACT dates February 10 and April 14.

There are few good reasons to take another test. One is that you took the test only once, in the fall, and there was a problem. Maybe you were sick, or you couldn’t find your contact lenses and took the test half blind, or the person sitting next to you was smacking gum really loud. Maybe (I’ve seen this happen before) you were taking the test in a large room with lots of big windows, and there was a huge thunderstorm and the room literally shook every 20 seconds with thunder and you thought maybe the windows were going to blow into your face and so you were maybe a little distracted and not at your best.

But even in these cases, you would only take the test because a college asked you to as part of their conditional acceptance, or because you’re hoping to apply somewhere that accepts very late and/or rolling admissions. Most 12th graders are done with standardized testing. Except, of course…

AP Exams are May 7-18. You should already know which AP classes you’re taking and which exams you’re likely to take. But seniors are in a weird spot. High school AP Coordinators have to turn in registration materials in March at the latest, and many get exams ordered much earlier. So you have to sign up for AP exams not knowing how they might affect you or if you really want to take them. For example, if you end up going to a school that doesn’t give credit for AP exams, or will only give credit for a 5 when you’re on track for a 3, then you may not want to bother taking a test that’s not going to benefit you directly. But you usually have to register for the exam long before you know which college you’re going to next year. Here’s the best thing to do: go ahead and register for exams and act as though you’re going to take all of them. Act as though each score of 3 or higher will get you college credit, potentially saving you time and money. If that turns out not be the case, then talk with your teachers and counselor about what to do. Many seniors end up going into the exam room knowing that the exam either doesn’t gain them anything or that they’re not likely to get a good score, and so they go to sleep. While this practice, honestly, is not likely to have personal negative repercussions for you, it may have negative effects for your AP teachers and your school. So be thoughtful about how you handle an exam that you’re neither expecting to get much from or put much into.

Work at being good at high school

It may seem silly to talk about being a good high school student in the spring semester of your senior year, but the fact remains that you're still in high school and there's still more to be done. And yes, I'm very aware of "senioritis." Your parents and teachers may not want me to say it, but slowing down your last semester is completely normal and fine. Because it's true, you're not just a regular high school student any more. On top of your normal classes and activities, you also have a lot of college decisions to make. Many seniors go on more college visits once they get their acceptances and have to make a decision. Your time in high school is just about over. There are often Prom and Senior Trip and Senior Gifts and Senior Pranks to organize. And so it's normal and fine to begin a transition and be less committed.

But think about it this way: how crazy would it be for an athlete to be told she's going to be on the Olympic team, and then stop working out and practicing? How self-destructive would it be for an employee to get a big promotion and then celebrate by not showing up to work half the time and being rude to her team that helped her get the promotion? You're almost out of high school and into college. That's wonderful! But don't let that be an excuse to start acting like a seventh grader again.

One way that senioritis works is for students to suddenly take on the "I don't need it to graduate" standard. Even good students find themselves failing classes or dropping their extracurricular activities simply because they don't need them to graduate. If your family has raised you with the bare minimum of parenting required not to get arrested for neglect, and your teachers have only done what was required to not get fired, then the "I don't need it to graduate" attitude is understandable. Otherwise, it's pretty reprehensible. Don't celebrate your transition to adulthood by acting like a toddler. It's that simple.

(I can tell you about one exception. Years ago I had a senior really stressed out and apologetic because he was behind on his final AP Lit. project due for me the week before final exams. I told him--not in front of other students--not to worry about, to skip it. He looked confused. I told him: "Look, even if you get a zero on this project, you're still going to end up with an A average for this class. You'll still be valedictorian in two weeks, and you're still going to Yale. You've earned this; skip it." But the chances that you're in a similar position are very very low.)

So then what is a more healthy and productive transition? What, if you will, is Good Senioritis? Good senioritis is the kind that begins to move away from high school realizing that you're moving Up. You act even more like a leader in your extracurriculars to pass your skills along to next year's seniors. You let the adults in your life know you appreciate all they've done to help you get to this new space. Even though you really are tired and stressed, you ask a lot of questions instead of whining are dropping out. Seriously, the last thing your teachers and parents need is for you to tell them how hard it is to be a responsible adult. They know. So ask them for guidance and be honest about your fears.

If you begin to jettison time-wasting school activities, fine. But also think about jettisoning time-wasting activities outside of school. The best way to prepare for college is to be a good high school student. While it's different being a high school student your last semester, you still need to be good at it. 

Choose a college

Most colleges ask for a commitment by May 1, and that’s the standard deadline for accepting or rejecting their admissions offers.  Take a lot of time to think about this. Talk to your family. Talk to your trusted teachers and counselors. Talk to your smart and ambitious friends. Talk to the financial aid offices. You’re not just making a choice about classes and professors, but a big part of your identity. Go back over the Five Foundations, especially the part about treating it like a relationship. Remember that while some schools may be a better fit than others, it’s hard to make the “wrong” choice unless you choose not to go anywhere.

Get financial aid

Most students depend on at least some financial aid to get through college. For most, the final decision about where to go is heavily--if not completely--influenced by financial considerations. Look through your financial aid offers very carefully. Ask a lot of questions. Talk to you family about money, often. Don't be afraid to ask a school for more money.

Make summer plans.

What do you need to do to get ready for college? Don't wait until the week before the fall semester to think about clothes for a new environment, bedding for a dorm, and transportation issues. If you've had a sluggish spring and need intellectual stimulation, see what your local museums or community centers offer. If you haven't had a job during high school, now is a good time to get some work experience, even if you don't think you need the money--especially if you don't need the money. It's tempting to treat this summer like a long nap, getting rested and doing very little before school next fall. But this is the best time to get prepared. Wherever you think you need improvement, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, intellectual, or any combination, now is the time.

11th, 10th, and 9th grade editions will be coming in the next week. Keep coming back!

Sign up for Apply with Sanity's monthly newsletter!

My second monthly newsletter just went out!

It's got all the ICYMI blog posts from last month, and it also has links to 10 other great articles about high school students and college admissions. The newsletter is your single, readable resource for everything interesting that has to do with your college applications. It's for high school students, their parents, and their teachers.

It only takes a few seconds to sign up. Click here! Thanks for reading and supporting Apply with Sanity!

 

Don't read that, read this

Man, I wish I'd waited just a little bit longer.

In a December blog post, I contemplated the "thought experiment" of using a lottery to decide admissions to elite universities.

But just a few days later, the author of that thought experiment published an article where she really gets down to the essence of the message: "In fact, we should discard the notion that admissions is a meritocratic process that selects the 'best' 18-year-olds who apply to a selective university. When we let go of our meritocracy ideals, we see more clearly that so many talented, accomplished young people who will be outstanding leaders in the future will not make it to the likes of Harvard, Stanford and Yale."

Any student wanting to go to a selective university, and any parent of a student thinking of going to a selective university, really should read "Harvard students and DOJ will find answers elusive in quest to learn about admissions decisions."

I'll also repeat the main idea from my post last month: selective schools may not literally use a lottery to decide who gets in, but it's really helpful to pretend they do. Getting in doesn't necessarily mean you're more qualified than all the people who didn't, and getting denied doesn't necessarily mean you're unqualified.

Congratulations to all the students who have heard good news from early applications! It means you're both good and lucky, and that's worth celebrating.

Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Jack is still making changes to his list

Jack is still making changes to his list

This week I got responses from Jack, and there's one I don't quite understand. He's pretty excited about his early application getting deferred from Yale. I've never heard a student happy about being deferred before. I assume he's happy because because a deferral--which basically means "we're not saying yes, but we're not saying no. We'll look at your application again with the batch of regular applications instead of the early ones"--isn't a rejection. But I'll update when I hear back from him about his happiness. Also, if you happen to be an admissions professional at Reed, you should follow up with Jack. Read the full interview below. 

What should you do with your break?

What should you do with your break?

Most of this is for seniors in the midst of their college applications. But don't worry, underclassmen, there's advice for you in here, too. Most high schools give you a break for a few weeks around the holidays, and most students are good at procrastination. These combine to produce way too much to do over your break. Here's some advice for handle it.

Are people afraid of the University of Chicago?

Are people afraid of the University of Chicago?

I visited New York City over Thanksgiving with extended family. It was a fantastically fun and relaxing trip. On top of all the lights and crowds and excitement, something else really caught my attention. Standing in line one night, I overheard someone in my group say that there has been a 20% decrease in applications to the University of Chicago over the past five years. It has to do, he said, with the growing violence in Chicago. People are scared to go there. (I checked with my wife, and she heard the same thing I did.) My immediate thought was that there is no way there's been a decrease like that to such a prestigious school, no matter what the news reports say about Chicago. But I didn't have any evidence for my argument. And I'd only met this guy, who is really nice and really smart, a few hours earlier. And it's the holidays. So I let it go...

...but I couldn't let it go. This week I did a bit of investigating to learn more about applications and crime near U Chicago. And it turns out he's right. Kind of.