Whether you’re a freshman just starting high school, or you’re a weary senior about to submit your 20th and final college application, my favorite quote to summarize your college search + application process remains the same: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Every year, there are countless students who turn to me at the 11th hour a couple of days before the submission deadline because it has finally started to sink in that maybe they’ve been doing something wrong with their personal statement and all their supplemental essays. And yet these are only the second saddest group of students I encounter.
So then, who are the saddest students? Well, those are the ones who get rejected from their favorite schools without ever having understood what they should have done differently. These students made the assumption that the process is rather straightforward. They made assumptions that being the smartest student in their class should be good enough to get into their favorite Ivy League school. They made assumptions that their broad, cliché, tell-but-not-show personal statement would be still be good enough when packaged together with their GPA and SAT/ACT test scores. These students' parents made assumptions that the entire college application process and criteria are still the same as when they applied to college an entire generation ago back when mobile phones were the size of bricks.
The internet, technology, and social media have made the college application process more competitive than ever, with students applying from all over the world with access to vastly differing quantities and quality of information.
Just a few months ago, on November 1, I was visiting a new class of weary high school seniors at one of the top IB programs in the country; I could tell from their bloodshot eyes and slumped body language that most had been up all-night scrambling to complete their Early Decision and Early Action application essays. As I always do, I offered the students my best college counseling tips -- tips, insights, and secrets that I know typical high school counselors don’t know well enough to share with the students. But on this day, I distinctly remember one brazen senior who raised her hand and proclaimed to me, “Well, what good is any of this advice to us today? Now that I know my personal statement and supplemental essays make the very mistakes that you say to avoid, it’s not as though I can change them completely in the next 12 hours before the deadline!”
And sadly, she is absolutely right. Yes, what good is the advice I was giving if students only hear those tips, insights, and secrets when it’s too late?
That is exactly why when speaking to students of any age -- 6th grad