College Applications Made Simple(r)

It’s nearing the deadline for early applications to colleges, and that can mean anxiety over whether your son or daughter is really “sure enough” to apply to his top choice, badgering him to get the essays done and a generally stressed-out household. We spend a lot of time with high school students, and there is one thing we know for sure: they don’t want the college application to take over their lives and result in non-stop strife in their families, but they just don’t know how to avoid it, and, frequently, neither do their parents. While it would be overly optimistic to think that stress can be completely eliminated from the process there are things that can be done to increase your child’s chances of putting together a good application without losing it. Here are our suggestions for what your kids should do:

    1. Organize your stuff. Sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many times students don’t do it. Keep a folder with all of your SAT, ACT, and AP scores and test dates so that you don’t waste time looking for the information. Likewise, keep track of the activities you have done in high school and any honors that you have received.
    2. Decide which teachers you will ask for references and do it before you leave for summer at the end of junior year. Remember, your teachers are busy, too, and they will appreciate advance notice so that they can plan. Put together a packet of information for your teachers—a resume, sports profile, etc. that will help them know more about you.
    3. Understand requirements and deadlines. Colleges ask for similar, but unfortunately not identical, information. Look at the Common Application early, gather the basic information and draft at least the short answer essay before starting senior year. Make a chart or spreadsheet of EXACTLY what you need to submit with the deadline for each component of the application. If you are being recruited as an athlete or performer, realize that your process will be different and your timelines will be accelerated.
    4. Make sure your counselor knows who you are before October! Really. Every year during the third week of October, with the early decision deadlines looming, students flock to their counselors’ offices looking for advice. It is not easy for counselors to help you in a meaningful way if they don’t know you.
    5. Narrow down your schools list. No one can write more than 7 or 8 high-quality applications. You may complete more than that, but recognize that you will not have the time or energy to do your best work on all of them. Work in priority order. And, if you would rather die than go to Misery U, take it off your list no matter what your parents, friends or counselors say. Of course, you should have an informed, logical reason for despising the school.
    6. Agree on ground rules with your parents. No one wants to be bugged daily by their parents about writing applications, but let’s be realistic—there is going to be bugging. Agree with your parents on a time once a week when you will talk about where you are in the process and what you still have to do.
    7. Write about what you care about in your own voice. There is no perfect essay, and trying to concoct one usually fails miserably. Think about something that you care about or that interests you. What do you want the readers of the application to know about you that they might not otherwise know without reading your essay? Try not to over think it, and be true to yourself. And remember, having someone proofread it does not mean writing it for you. Do your own work.

MaureenBrown200hMaureen Brown, MBA, is Executive Director for Challenge Success, where she oversees daily operations as well as marketing and strategic planning. Ms. Brown comes to Challenge Success with over 20 years of consulting experience in health care, financial services, and technology. Prior to joining Challenge Success, Ms. Brown worked as an independent consultant and as a Partner at APM, Incorporated, where she structured, sold and managed strategic and operations improvement engagements for health care institutions, primarily university medical centers. Ms. Brown has also worked in Cash Management for Philadelphia National Bank and Citibank. She has been on various boards at Georgetown, and most recently co-founded the Bay Area Georgetown Technology Alliance. Ms. Brown has also served as a Board member at Woodside School.

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