Evidence abounds that the school year has begun. My commute is lengthened by twenty percent as I drive through three school zones on my way to work; we’ve hit the third week of the NFL pre-season (thank you, Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith for ending the labor strife); the grass in my front yard is no longer yellow (though here in Dallas we are still mired in a record-setting heat wave). Around campus, a fresh coat of paint lines the hallways, lockers are organized with unopened books (will they remain that way?), and a palpable energy emanates from the students.
The opening of school for a college counselor, like most school employees, is like being shot out of a canon. No matter how much one prepares, there is no way to simulate the experience. Changing schedules, editing essays, managing malleable college lists, and a host of other unanticipated events makes for an exciting time.
For students, these first weeks can be incredibly unsettling:
What was I thinking last spring when I signed up for four AP’s?
My boyfriend returned from camp and seems like a complete stranger now.
I started the “Students Supporting Red-headed Chinese Girls with Cleft Palates Club” and nobody signed up.
WHERE AM I GOING TO COLLEGE???
Counselors might or might not be helpful with the first three concerns, but we certainly can assist students manage their anxiety about college. Set a few reasonable, short-term goals to achieve:
1. Create a first draft of your college essay, using the Common Application essay prompts. (September 15)
Using the essay-writing tips discussed in this blog, you should be able to write a first draft within the next two weeks. Even if you are unsure exactly what you’d like to say, just start writing. Sometimes the best essays are just a kernel of a previously written essay.
2. Finalize your college list. (October 1)
Working closely with your counselor, devise a list of seven to ten schools that encompasses at least two schools you are sure to get into. The trick is figuring out what you are looking for in a college and then finding a group of schools that possesses these qualities. Schools that are “safe” should still be schools about which you are excited. After all, it’s statistically likely that you’ll end up attending one of them.
3. Complete at least one application. (November 1)
Whether or not you end up applying under an early program (early decision, early action, restrictive early action), simply filling out an application in the early fall will accomplish two goals. From a practical standpoint, if the application is to a school that reviews applications on a rolling basis, you are maximizing your chance of success. Second, you create momentum for the rest of the process. Once you complete one application the rest seem much easier. The essay is done, your parents’ educational history is committed to memory, and you’ve figured out that by asking your mom for her credit card to pay the application fees you might be able to sneak in a secret purchase from J. Crew.
Summer is over and school has begun. As you begin these applications, realize that you have a chance to shape the image created of you in the eyes of admissions officers. Enjoy this unique opportunity by efficiently utilizing your time.