Would you rather eat a bowl of worms or drink a gallon of sour milk?
Would you rather walk to school naked one day or walk to school backwards every day?
Would you rather sit on a nail or stand on a push pin?
These are just a few of the queries I overheard recently at a sixth-grade girls spend the night party. Hold on. Let me clarify- I have a sixth-grade daughter and I was washing dishes while they were playing this game in the adjoining room. (Just didn’t want you canceling this blog based on the wrong idea.) Anyway… none of these or the other options sounded great to me. And I thought about them. Really, I’m still thinking about them. I mean worms or sour milk? Just not sure. It’s the gallon that gets me. If it were a pint, I’d go milk without question. The quantity was a brilliant add.
I actually find would you rather instructive for college admission, because ultimately, (just like the colleges I wrote about last time) having choices and options is the goal for students and applicants. Unless you get into a college under an Early Decision plan, the ideal situation is to be able to sit down in the spring of your senior year with multiple offers of admission- and financial aid packages from those places that make it affordable and enticing for you to attend. Unlike sixth-grade girls who clearly only incorporate embarrassing or painful options, you want to have to make a tough decision because the options are so good. And in my experience, the college students who are the most satisfied with their choice are the ones who know they intentionally picked that school over other viable options.
So how do you end up with choices and options?
As a freshman and sophomore this starts with doing well in high school classes, and doing good outside of them. In other words, challenge yourself academically to the point where you can learn, enjoy, and still have capacity to contribute to your school, family, and community beyond school hours. At the end of the day, colleges want good high school students. They want kids who are well prepared academically and ones who will add to their campus life and ethos too. Your goal in 9th and 10th grade is simply to set a foundation. Work hard academically, learn to study, focus on time management, advocate for yourself, and get involved in things where you can really have an impact or influence.
When colleges review transcripts, they start with the ninth grade and work from there. They are asking questions around what you could have taken, what you chose to take, and how you did in each class during each grade. On the Common Application, you’ll also be asked to indicate which years in high school you participated in various activities. Your goal is to be kind to your current self by getting sleep and not overloading and be kind to your future self by investing now inside and outside the classroom. Having choices and options for college as a senior, comes from making good choices throughout high school.
As a junior starting to explore colleges (and likely starting to receive lots of mail and email from schools), you should be thinking honestly and earnestly about what you really want and need in an academic environment, and the type of setting in which you can thrive. Does 30,000 students sound exciting and dynamic or terrifying? Does snow from October to March bring about visions of skiing or crying? Does the college you root for or know best have the major you really want?
Honing in on places that focus on what you are focused on will help you eliminate colleges that don’t match your interests and invest time, money, or other resources visiting and exploring the places that do. This is not easy. It demands keeping an open mind when brochures from places you have never heard from land on your desk or kitchen table. This means being confident enough to tune out unhelpful voices (sometimes the loudest and closest in proximity) and humble enough to seek out information, perspectives, and details that may be less familiar or easy to attain.
Ask your high school senior self this: Would you rather end up at your state’s flagship or your parents’ alma mater or the closest college to your house or know that you eliminated other options, thought seriously about what you really wanted in a college experience, and intentionally chose your state’s flagship or your parents’ alma mater or the closest college to your house?
As a senior in the fall, please do not apply anywhere you don’t actually want to go. That’s just dumb. And please do not let anyone convince you that you need to apply to “a few more places” justso you have some arbitrary number they have conceived for you. Instead, be realistic about your grades, your profile outside the classroom, and the competition you will be facing. Again, don’t forget that the end goal is to be able to afford to go. Do your homework by talking to your school counselor, using net price calculators, and consulting sites such as MyIntuition or BigFuture. Be reminded that your chances of being admitted to a school with an admit rate below 20% do not go up 20% by applying to 20% more of those schools. Trade out “dream school” for IRL colleges. Apply to a group of schools (you figure out the number but generally more than 2 and less than 10) where you know you will be thrilled to get in and excited to go. People, there are 4000 higher education options in America and many more around the world. When you eliminate 99.9% of them, it should only leave you with places you are fired up to attend.
As a senior in the winter, if you are deferred, please do not write these places off if you are still legitimately interested. Julie Andrews lists raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens/ Brown paper packages tied up with strings/ but I note she doesn’t include being deferred and having to wait during college admission as one of her favorite things. Still, if we agree your goal is choices and options, then be reminded a deferral is not a closed door. Ego bruise? Perhaps. Annoying? Sure. But you applied in their admission process not for one round. Stay the course. Send in fall grades, complete the essay, fill out the form, do the interview, or whatever else they may ask. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Ask yourself if you would rather see it through or wonder later what might have happened?
To recap- how do you end up with Choices and Options?
- Do well – and do good.
- Do your college homework.
- Only apply to places that excite you.
- Stay on Target.
Spring of senior year. Voila- CHOICES & OPTIONS. You got this!