Applying Season

This weekend Maddy sent her first of what feels like will be 3469 university applications (but is really more like 8-12, which is typical for her friends in the states). She chose one school to submit her application for their early consideration and the rest will be regular decision, due in December/January. 'Tis the season! 

I have to admit that this is a totally different process than with Lauren a few years ago (though not as different as when I applied and typed each application on a typewriter!). This probably stems from their different personalities, our level of experience with the process, and even their ages at application--Lauren was a barely-17 high school senior during the application process and Maddy is almost 19, thanks to the delay brought by our move to Australia. Lauren looked at her scores and GPA, chose a few schools, and was hopeful of her chances (she didn't really choose any long shots) and she ended up just where she wanted to be. However, I think partly because this was all so new to all of us, she also needed a bit more nudging and reminding throughout the process (read: harassing and non-stop nagging). We didn't do any of it for her; she was the train conductor and engineer of the enterprise but I definitely felt like the guy standing on the platform tapping his foot with a stopwatch in hand. The stakes just felt so high and uncertain! 

Maddy's been approaching it a little differently. She's motivated to blaze her own trail and has been looking longingly at a handful of schools for a few years now. (Let's just go ahead and call it the Gilmore Girls Effect, shall we?) She's applying at a range of schools--a mix of public and private, large and small, selective and less so.

Because of the unknowns related to applying from an international school (not to mention no college admissions counselor at her school), she doesn't really have a real sense of her chances. She's worked hard to put herself in the possible zone but who knows what the admissions offices are looking for or what they'll decide? Not me, that's who. 

Along the way, Maddy found a few resources that were really great in helping her to understand how to put together a college application:

General advice:
Yale has some great resources and advice for applicants to any university:
Advice on choosing where to apply
Advice on putting together your college application

Letters of recommendation:
Maddy found MIT's Guide to Writing Letters of Recommendation really helpful for explaining to her teachers and recommenders what the US admissions offices are expecting and how their letters are evaluated. (In Australia, admission to university is based not on extracurriculars or teacher recommendations but on your ATAR score so teachers don't write many recommendations at all.) She just included a little description and linked to it in her note to her recommenders. A nice email like this sample note to recommenders helped update her recommenders, orient them to the process, and refresh their memories about her contributions and achievements.

College admissions essays:
Khan Academy has a great new series on applying to college. Maddy thought their series of articles and videos on  writing a strong college admissions essay was especially helpful. 

Also, the website Medium has a contest called "Extra Credit" that awards scholarship money for excellent college application essays. They've posted a handful of winners and it's great reading to see the diversity of responses and get inspired for your own essay.

For parents:
Let it go, let it go. (Easier said than done, I know. I should have absorbed this four years ago!) Tufts's excellent admissions blog offers this advice:
"Often our concern, suggestions, insights, and shared wisdom are seen as an intrusion, or provide added stress.  Your daughter needs the independence and the knowledge that you believe she can do this on her own.  Your son will thrive knowing you trust him to succeed. Our job as parents is to support and provide a safe haven for our children in the midst of a crazy, pressure filled senior year.  Encourage your son or daughter to establish an earlier deadline in order to complete the application(s) in a timely fashion so the process doesn’t hijack the entire family parents we need to let our children sink or swim.  The application process is theirs and they will feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment once they have completed the applications and have met the deadline."

More Resources:

  • Most universities use the Common Application, which is a great time saver for the applicant and the recommenders. Still, many colleges either do not use the Common App or add on extra essays or elements. Even if your student won't be applying for a year or two, it's not a bad idea to glance at the applications now to see what's expected. Here are the essay questions for this year
  • NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) has extensive information and advice on the college application process
  • The US Department of Education's College Navigator is a one-stop resource for information about universities and colleges.

Now that I've spent a whole post on college applications, I need to add that I'm actually a big believer in de-escalating the craziness around this process. I remind my kids (and myself) that there are many great places to go and learn and that while we'd be happy for them if they land at one of the places toward the top of their list, what we really celebrate is the work they've put into their education so far and their continued quest for learning--not where they go. I think the philosophy of "fix it and forget it" fits here: Sure, do your best on tests/applications but don't obsess or worry. This application is just a blip in your life. Do it and then move on!

Do you have a child applying for college this year or in past years? What's the experience been? Any advice?