Five Foundations of Applying with Sanity

Get out of the “am I worthy?” mindset.

Many students base their application decisions on prestige. They look to articles and websites listing Top Colleges, and they rely on marketing as their guides. These students believe a “good school” will make them feel more worthy. Others limit themselves to “easy” schools to avoid the unworthy feeling that comes with rejection. Both of these approaches can easily lead to anxiety, confusion, and poor decisions.

Treat it like a relationship.

A productive and sane application process is a lot like finding a good match in a relationship. It requires an honest exploration of what you really want, what you really need, and what you really can offer in return. Lots of admissions professionals advise that you look for the “right fit” when applying to universities, but you can’t know what that actually means or how that actually works until you let go of the “am I worthy?” mindset.  

Be a person, not a résumé.

Because of the “am I worthy?” mindset, many students spend a lot of time and effort building up a résumé. In order to stand out, they burn themselves out. Instead of letting their résumé reflect their actual strengths, they decide what they want think their résumé is supposed to say and try to make themselves into that. They join too many organizations, spread their volunteer hours all over the place, take academic shortcuts to keep up their G.P.A., and abuse “study drugs” to make up for anxiety and lost sleep. Thinking about your real interests and developing skills related to those interests are going to be just as effective for college admissions—and a lot more effective for making you a happy and productive person.

Talk to your family about money. Soon.

For most families, college is a huge financial investment. For most families, the cost of the college is the ultimate deciding factor in whether or not a student goes there. But strangely, the financial considerations are the last thing many families talk about, often waiting until spring of the 12th grade. Students can make better decisions and have less anxiety if they know up front what the parameters are. High school students understand that even if they get into their dream school, they won’t go there if they can’t afford it. Yet most of them have no idea what is and isn’t affordable to their family, so they’re working blind until the last minute.

Pay more attention to your “safety” school.

Because of the competitive market for selective schools and the enormous costs of most colleges, students are more likely to end up at their safety school than they first think. So put the same amount of thought and effort into choosing that school as the rest. Why spend months or years working towards a great college application only to end up at a place you applied to hastily because it’s the only safety school you thought of? There are just as many options for safety schools as there are dream schools, so explore those thoughtfully and purposefully.