As You Fill Out Your College Application . . .

Freshmen move-in day is over. This year’s crop of students has begun classes. On college campuses, it’s already time to think about next year’s class. This means you.

For prospective students, application season has begun.

Here are some tips as you sit down and begin the application.

Get started on them.

Dream big dreams. Think about who you are and what you bring to college life. Reflect even more about who you wish to become. Remember that this is the first independent, adult game changer decision that you and your friends will make. See it as an opportunity and you’re well on your way to making a good decision.

As you reflect on what to do, close your eyes and imagine yourself at each institution. For the ones that blend together or seem fuzzy in memory, consider throwing the application on the discard pile. Instead, think about three “good to great”: Aspirant schools that you would love to admit you; Outstanding schools that you hope will admit you; and Good schools that you expect will send you an acceptance letter.

The answer is different for each of us.

Only apply to those schools – whatever the category – that meet your academic needs. Few of us will ever play professional baseball.  Most of us can discover a rewarding career without narrowing the field to a particular type of engineering or sociology degree before we set foot on campus. To borrow a political phrase from the Clinton years, remember “it’s about the academics, stupid!”

There is little point in sending out dozens of applications. It’s a waste of your time, especially if you have already done sufficient due diligence by visiting preferred schools. Whatever you decide, ask yourself what differentiates one institution from another. Where does this differentiation most closely match your interests?

Evaluate the institution. As nerve-racking as the application process is, it’s a fair question to ask yourself if the college meets your professional and personal standards. It’s far better to go where you know you will “fit” than to sacrifice yourself for prestige or succumb to parental or peer pressure. It’s your future.

You should be able to select two institutions in most cases in each category. Your guidance counselors will appreciate not having to prepare and process so many additional references for you.

For those in the 18-22 year old application category, think hard about the fact that your interests are likely to change over your college years. Further, even as you apply consider the hockey expression “play to where the puck will be.”   For many of you, you may not yet know what major to enter on to the application. Yet you should already be thinking about where you would like to live after graduation, what will interest you over the long term, and what income level matters to you.

In this regard, some of you will take less money in key professional jobs as newly minted alumni.  It’s a noble and honorable thing to do. It’s okay, regardless of political and consumer efforts to score success by income. I know from personal experience that the world needs great teachers like my Dad. If we are true to ourselves, the person who we most admire at the end of our lives is seldom the person who made the most money.

As you write your application, be honest. You are an interesting and engaging individual. Tell them why. Use short sentences and active verbs. There is no excuse for poor spelling or punctuation.

It is essential that you – and you alone – prepare the application. Good admissions officers can always sniff out community writing. There is nothing wrong with running concepts by your family and friends and asking for a final edit of what you wrote. But the words must be yours alone.

As you write, remember that the application reflects the best of you. You are the sum of your parts.  Convey to the admissions office your class standing, good deeds, scholarships and awards. But also show them the promise within you.  Share your optimism, aspirations and enthusiasm.

Be prepared for rejection. It’s a good lesson and one you should learn well early. Know that rejection can occur for a variety of reasons, including some that have little to do with you.  Have enough confidence in yourself – and a thick enough skin – to move on with little regret and substantial grace.  Things usually work out well in the end.

Don’t procrastinate.  Get your applications in before the end of term holiday.  You’ll rest better and there is nothing you can do, unless you expect to hear as an early admissions candidate.  Then, watch for the response.

Finally, think about the world beyond your nose.  Applications are about you.  But they also say something about the parents, siblings, teachers, counselors and friends who shared the angst and joy that comes with being you.  The last stage of the application process should be an effort by you to find some way to thank them.  They made it possible for you to hit the “submit” button more than anyone else.

You’ll surprise them when you do.

Then again, surprises – particularly the great intellectual ones – are what a good college education is all about.

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