Admissions fix #1: Dare to make decisions

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Real College Matters

About six months ago, I wrote a blog post about the most profound thing anyone has ever said to me. Now, I’m going to share the best insight I’ve gleaned from an admissions officer at a highly selective university:

“If you all would make some decisions before you apply, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

The importance of making choices cannot be overstated as the student approaches senior year. “He’s just going to apply to a bunch of colleges, and we’ll see what happens” seems like a sensible, cool-heads-will-prevail approach. When we adopt that posture, though, we set our student up only to react to the process rather than being a proactive driver of it.

Students believe they are mitigating the risk of rejection—or perhaps of getting the best scholarship–by skipping over the important and countercultural tasks of reflection, objective clarification, and decision-making. Instead, they are prone to apply to a long, undifferentiated list of colleges. And let’s give them a break: at age 18, who has the wisdom to know that “more” is not always better? But it’s a rare student who ought to apply to more than a handful of colleges. Every application carries its own bundle of costs, in terms of time, material and emotion.

After a period of discussion and consideration, the students in my practice prioritize the five or six qualities they most value in a college. Within the parameters of parental domain—cost and possibly distance—the student and I work together, ultimately to compile the list of colleges to which they will apply. To be sure, it takes courage to delete institutions, but the paring must be done, in the interest of the student’s quality of life and clarity of options.

Is “everybody else” limiting their number of college applications to a handful? Absolutely not. That’s why we abide in a world where almost 700K applications were submitted to the University of California system and $243M was charged in application fees just to those students who were rejected during the 2016-17 cycle.*

But your student can take control of her college search make a short list which is grounded in the reality of her objectives, her admissibility, and probable affordability. A student who can articulate why every college on her list makes good sense for her is a student who is singularly prepared for the application process.

*Figure calculated from IPEDs data for academic year 2016-17.