Now it's time to give thanks

I know that Thanksgiving was months ago, but now is the time for high school seniors to give thanks.

For most seniors, the active part of school applications is winding down. You’ve sent out most, if not all, of your applications. Now you wait. While you wait to hear from schools and think about how to choose from your acceptances, take some time to write 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. Many people still insist that you should only send hand-written thank you notes, but for most of these email is really 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 or you feel obligated, 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 or if you’re still in their class with more grades coming this semester. If you decide that it is appropriate to give a small gift, then be thoughtful about it. There 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 counselors 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 what school they ended up choosing. 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: a version of this blog post originally ran in 2017. I ran it again in 2018. I’ll probably keep re-posting it as long as there is an Apply with Sanity, because giving thanks to people who help is really important.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with someone who says “nobody writes thank you notes anymore.” There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn. Comments and questions are welcome and appreciated.

Photo by  Zoe Herring

Photo by Zoe Herring

Asking a favor

Hello smart and ambitious Apply with Sanity readers,

Will you please take a few minutes to do me a quick favor?

Please find one of your favorite recent posts and share it with someone who would like to read it. Sending it directly to a person is good; sharing widely on social media is good; both is great.

I don’t run annoying ads, throw pop-ups at your screen, or ask for money. But a quick share would mean a lot to Apply with Sanity’s mission to provide useful and free advice to college-bound high school students.

Thank you so much! The next update will be this Thursday.

Photo by  David Leggett

Photo by David Leggett

Stop doing that

There’s a moment from my teaching career I remember well.

Like many English teachers, I gave a weekly vocabulary quiz. Each week I’d give a list of 15 words, and each week I had a fill-in-the-blank quiz where students would need to find the word that best fit into a sentence. I eventually stopped doing this when I realized I was just doing it out of habit and not because I necessarily thought it was a good practice, but that’s not what this story is about.

One time, about six weeks into the school year, a student came to talk to me about her vocab quizzes. She was getting low scores, and she was frustrated. She told me that she’d spending hours each week preparing, but it (obviously) wasn’t helping. She looked up each word in the dictionary and read through the definitions carefully. She repeated this a few times through the week, and made sure to do it right again the morning of the quiz. But she was still getting scores in the 40s and 50s.

“Stop doing that,” I said.

“What do you mean?” She was confused by my answer.

“If you’re studying in a way that isn’t helping, then stop doing that. Let’s find a way to study for the quiz in a way that helps.”

She seemed skeptical as I explained ways that I knew some other students prepared, mostly by looking for sentences with the word so they could understand it in context. That’s how the quiz worked, after all, using the words in context.

She left hopeful, and almost immediately her quiz grades shot up into 90s.

I forgot about the whole conversation, but later in the year she brought it up. What really stuck with her, she said, wasn’t the tips I gave her about how to study, but that I told her it was ok to stop what she had been doing. When she was younger, she’d been taught that reading and re-reading definitions is the “right” way to improve your vocabulary. She found it refreshing that a teacher told her to stop doing it the “right” way if the “right” way was ineffective. That’s what she thanked me for.

(Considering the school we were at, I know that I wasn’t the first or only teacher to encourage students to think openly about what works best for them. I think it was simply the bluntness of “stop doing that” that broke through.)

With that story in mind, I want to encourage you to stop doing the things that aren’t making you a better student or happier person, even if those things are generally considered good. You already know you should stop giving in to your “bad” habits; we all know that. But if a “good” habit, like my student’s thorough re-reading of dictionary definitions, isn’t helping you, then please let it go.

The only thing I ask is that you give a new habit or practice time before you abandon it. The new way of studying for the quiz didn’t work for her instantly, but it kicked in after a few weeks. Don’t give up on something that may be helpful just because it doesn’t have immediate effect. But once you’ve been doing something long enough to know for sure that it’s not helping you, stop doing that.

If you’re studying for tests in a way that isn’t helping you do well on tests, stop doing that.

If you’re a part of a club or sport because it “looks good to colleges,” but you’re not really participating or getting anything from it, stop doing that.

If you’re pursuing a path that makes you deeply unhappy because you think it must be better than confronting your family about their expectations for you, stop doing that.

If you have a system for keeping yourself organized and keeping track of what you need to do but you constantly feel unorganized or miss deadlines, stop doing that.

If you’re only considering “elite” colleges but find yourself anxious that you may not get accepted to any of them, stop doing that.

If you’re only considering less-selective colleges to play it safe but find yourself anxious that you may be selling yourself short, stop doing that.

If you’re going through the motions of preparing for college but know in your heart that you don’t want to go to college, stop doing that.

If you’re avoiding thinking about college because you’re afraid you can’t afford it but know in your heart that college is the right thing for you, stop doing that.

Doing the right things, and doing them the right way, is good for you and the people around you. But please take account now and then to make sure the things you’re doing really are good, and that you really are doing them in the right way.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with a high school student you know. Or the parents or teachers of a student you know. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Photo by Angela Elisabeth

Photo by Angela Elisabeth

What should 9th graders be doing this spring?

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.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with a freshman you know. Or the parents or teachers of a freshman you know. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Photo by  Zoe Herring

Photo by Zoe Herring

What should sophomores be doing this spring?

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.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with a sophomore you know. Or the parents or teachers of a sophomore you know. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Photo by Angela Elisabeth

Photo by Angela Elisabeth

What should juniors be doing this spring?

Dates & Deadlines

SAT: March 9 (register by February 8); May 4 (register by April 5); June 1 (register by May 3)

ACT: February 9 (register by January 11); April 13 (register by March 8); June 8 (register by May 3); July 13 (register by June 14)

AP Exams: May 6-17

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 or lost during practice. The same principle applies to you and college admissions: you get accepted to schools now, not next year.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with a junior you know. Or the parents or teachers of a junior you know. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Photo by  Zoe Herring

Photo by Zoe Herring

Catch up on all the college admissions news with the January newsletter!

If you’re like me, then it's early January and you're still not sure what all happened last month. You may not even be too sure what day of the week it is! So here's a quick recap on all the college admissions headlines and posts from Apply with Sanity.  Read January’s newsletter, read past newsletters, subscribe to get future newsletters. Or all of the above.

Photo by  David Leggett

Photo by David Leggett

Faulkner had some setbacks

Faulkner had a good Thanksgiving, and she’s got support from her family. However, she had a clerical setback in early December and didn’t get some of her applications finished in time—including a top-choice school. Read the entire December interview below, and look forward to better news in January!

Meet the Class gets updated each month from September to May. Each installment features 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. Names may be changed to protect privacy. 

FAULKNER ATTENDS A PUBLIC MAGNET HIGH SCHOOL IN GEORGIA.

Did you get your UC Davis application submitted? How does it feel to have that completed?

I was unable to submit my UC Davis application because I was unable to retrieve my high school transcript.

How did the SAT re-take go? How soon can you expect results?

I felt more confident re-taking the SAT and I have already received my SAT scores; I did better than my October SAT.

You’ve added at least two schools to your list, Savannah State and Texas A&M. Is that just a result of doing more research and finding more matches? Are you still refining and changing what you’re looking for? Both? How do you decide what schools to add or delete from your list?

Savannah State University has been on my list for a long time, and my aunt suggested I go to Texas A&M since most of my family members, including her, live in Texas.

Have you got any interviews or visits scheduled?

I do not have any interviews or visits scheduled. Most of my schools accept the Common Application.

How’s school going? Are you keeping on top of your classes with all the admissions work and theater? What’s the general stress level of the seniors at your school?

School is going smoothly.

How was your Thanksgiving?

My Thanksgiving was fun. My dad and I went to Jekyll Island and ate dinner with my relatives.

How has your family been through the application process? Are they really involved? Do they have a preference for where you end up?

My family has been offering me advice through the application process.

Your list, as of last month, was

George Washington U (top choice)

UC Davis (top choice, applied)

Tulane

NC State

Michigan State

Kent State

Southern New Hampshire

Savannah State

Texas A&M

Any changes to that?

Despite missing the application deadline for UC Davis and Texas A&M, I will keep them on my list just in case an opportunity arises that allows me to apply again.

Thanks for reading! If you have college admissions questions for Faulkner, leave a comment or email me. Please share this with someone who would like to read it. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Photo by Angela Elisabeth

Photo by Angela Elisabeth

What should seniors be doing this spring?

Dates & Deadlines

There are two more SAT tests, on March 9 and May 4. There are also two more ACT dates February 9 and April 13.

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 6-17. 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.

So 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.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading! Please share this with everyone you know, or at least with someone you think will find it helpful. “What should I be doing this spring?” for 9th-11th grades will be posted next week. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn

Photo by  Zoe Herring

Photo by Zoe Herring

Dealing with bad news

Dealing with bad news

It’s mid-December, so acceptance letters (or emails, or notifications on portals) are coming in for early applicants. That means, of course, that denials are also coming in for early applicants. All denials—colleges use “denial” instead of the harsher and more emotional “rejection”—feel bad, but the first one feels the worst. It especially feels worse if it’s from an Early Decision or Early Action application and you were hoping to be done with the whole process by now. I spent an entire morning reading through web pages on “how to deal with rejection,” and most of them deal with being rejected by someone you ask out or being fired from a job. So here is my college admissions-specific advice about working through your first—or second, or twelfth—skinny envelope.

Don't submit that Mission Trip essay!

Don't submit that Mission Trip essay!

If you’re finishing up your college application essay and it has to do with a mission trip you were part of, I’m going to ask you not to submit it. At least not yet.

Some of the most common complaints against the Mission Trip essay is that it is cliché and therefore admissions officers are really tired of reading it because all the mission trip essays sound the same. To be clear: both these things are true. But I really don’t like that as a reason to avoid the Mission Trip essay. It reinforces the idea that your job is to write something the admissions officers will like, so they’ll like you and admit you—if you know they don’t like that essay topic, then you shouldn’t write about.

But your job isn’t to be a product that you’re “selling” to the colleges, and you shouldn’t change what you write about based on the idea that your meaningful experience isn’t valuable because colleges are tired of hearing about it.

Faulkner is chugging along

Faulkner is chugging along

Faulkner had been working toward a lot of the same goals and deadlines as most other high school seniors. She’s taking the SAT one more time, finishing up her first college application, looking ahead to sending out a big batch of applications through the Common Application. On top of all that, she’s taking actual college courses at an actual college for her high school. Read all about her progress below!

What should you do over the winter break?

What should you do over the winter break?

I know that late November is a little early to start suggesting things to do over the winter break. But a) admit it: now that Thanksgiving is over, you’re already thinking about your winter break, and b) since “don’t do any more college stuff than you absolutely have to” is one of my suggestions, you may want to plan ahead a little. Read all my advice below. Do you have any other good advice I left out? Leave it in a comment, we’d all love to hear it.

Kati has an acceptance!

Kati has an acceptance!

For many people, there’s something special that happens when they get their first college acceptance. College gets a bit more concrete and a lot less abstract. Possibility becomes more clear. Reality feels more real. This seems to be the case for Kati, who got her acceptance to the University of Texas at Austin. She knew she had automatic acceptance coming, but making it official has still allowed her to cut down her to-do list a little bit. Read the whole interview below.

The State of College Admissions

The State of College Admissions

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling, or NACAC, released its annual “State of College Admissions” report. The report is based on a survey of over 2,200 high school counselors and almost 500 college admissions officers. You can read the full report here. It’s worth at least browsing and checking out the charts. Here are my top take-aways for smart, ambitious college-bound high school students.

Grace sent out all her applications

Grace sent out all her applications

Grace surprised me this month. I knew she planned to apply Early Action to a few of her top choice schools, but I also knew that she had a lot of extracurricular expectations with the school play. So I was not expecting to hear that she took the extra time to go ahead and just send out all 10 of her applications early. But that’s what she did, and she says it feels great. Read the full interview below, and catch up on Grace’s past interviews here.

More about recommendation letters

More about recommendation letters

joined a Facebook group of college counselors and consultants recently, and this week there was an interesting conversation. Basically, a counselor had realized that some of the teachers at their school were writing student recommendation letters that were badly written, form letters, or both. Lots of others commented that the counselor should do something immediately, perhaps instigate refresher training for teachers on the campus, or maybe even district-wide. And it hit me that I was a high school teacher for 17 years who wrote dozens of rec letters, and I’d never had any sort of training or guidance. Unlike at some other districts, we just had to figure it out. Or not.