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An Open Letter to the Upcoming Senior Class and Their Parents

Early in June, the torch will be passed from the graduating class of 2014 and you will become the reigning seniors at your high school. There are many responsibilities that come with being “senior” in the high school as your fellow classmates look to you for guidance and mentorship in taking the next steps. It is always good to see how others negotiate the ins and outs, trials and tribulations of the last year of high school. Your leadership and conduct will set the tone throughout your high school!

Your senior year will indeed come with highs and lows, but rest assured everyone makes it through. With that in mind, I would like to leave you with some food for thought during the summer months in regards to the upcoming (or ongoing!) college process. I recently came across an article from with some very sage advice written by a senior to the upcoming senior class about what she would do differently in the college application process if she could do it over. Here is a quick synopsis of what she said with some of my own recommendations.

1. Craft a college list consisting of a variety of schools

You will see a variety of language around this topic, but I use the following headings to differentiate your school choices. You will want to have a combination of “sure bets” (schools you know you can get into), “targets” (schools where you hit the qualitative marks right on) and “reach” schools. A reach would also be what I call a “wild card” – any school that has lower than an 18% accept rate will be difficult for anyone, including the Einstein’s in the group! Crafting a list with an assortment of schools will ultimately give you choices and happy outcomes. I had a mother contact me this spring whose son applied only to Caltech, Stanford and Berkeley and was upset when he wasn’t accepted to any school! Be smart and make sure your list has an array of schools you would be happy to go to!

2. Start early

Essays are time consuming and what you don’t anticipate is just how long they take! It requires brainstorming, writing and revising, which you will do many times before you have the perfect essay. Having to write essays in the fall of your senior year dramatically increases your nightly homework and stress level. Brainstorming essays are best done early spring of your junior year and if you can get the “common app essay” done before school starts you will be one step ahead of the game. This will alleviate stress when you should be focused on keeping your grades up, finishing up standardized testing and filling out applications!

3. Draft outlines for your essays before writing them

Writing an outline to your essays will help you have a clearer sense of what you want to get across and the experiences you want to write about to support your ideas. Remember, the essay is what sets up apart from the “herd”! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the essay in the application process.

4. Apply early to any school that allows it

Schools now offer a wide array of decision deadlines. Early Decision (ED) is for those who know exactly where they want to go, have been dreaming about the school since they were in diapers and will commit without question. This is a “binding” decision and rescinding on an early decision contract does not reflect well on the student, the school and the counselors who helped you. ED deadlines are usually in late fall. Early Action (EA) is a better route to take as you can get your application in and have a better chance of accessing a spot in the freshman class without binding you to the school. Acceptance rates are much higher for these early deadlines, “often doubling-even tripling- your chances of getting into a top college”, according to Forbes. For many schools, early action determines over 40% of their incoming freshman class!

5. Stay away from College Confidential , other student run websites and Great Aunt Myrtle’s advice

These websites are a black hole for comparing yourself to others and increases stress.

Stay away! Statistics and numbers will only make you crazy! Remember, there are so many factors in the college admissions process that comparing yourself to others is just not healthy. As I always tell my students and families, BLOCK OUT THE NOISE!

There will be a lot of background chatter from other students, parents that will be distracting and stress inducing. While everyone is trying to be helpful, listen to those in your trusted, immediate circle.

6. Don’t feel obliged to tell people where you are applying

People will be asking you; what is your first choice? Where are you going? If you don’t want to engage in the conversation, don’t! Find a catch phrase that works for you, for example, “I have a number of schools I am excited about and just have to see what happens”, or “I am still waiting for my decision letters and will know soon”. Whatever works for you, but in an “over share” world, don’t feel like you have to!

7. Let your own personality shine through in your applications

There will be many people in your life ready and willing to give you advice – teachers, parents, friends – which are all good resources. At the end of the day, however, it can be tiresome to be bombarded with suggestions and advice. Have one person, teacher, advisor, or college counselor look over your essays for grammar and spelling errors but be careful of have “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Make sure it is your voice that is heard, not someone else’s!

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