How to minimize the extras and get the best chance of admission

Usernames, passwords, application portals, emails, admission “insights” from your neighbor, a family member, friends, the “I heard if you do this…” and “colleges really want to see…” to-do lists, essays, deadlines, the decision to apply early or not, the decision to apply early decision or not, isn’t there a thing called a FAFSA? Thinking of getting the best suited letters of recommendation, isn’t there a thing called demonstrated interest? Well should I email my admission counselor? Don’t forget the FAFSA. Websites, more essays and an endless college list because “What if I don’t get in?” 

If the previous paragraph is as dizzying to read as it was to type and leaves you feeling a bit tense…well ya…welcome to Senior year as a college applicant.

Want to hear something else? It. Doesn’t. Have. To. Be. That. Way.

It doesn’t have to be a convoluted, confusing process where you feel like everyone else have the answers except you. It doesn’t have to feel like you’re running out of time and you can barely get a grip on what you’re actually supposed to be doing in this moment. It doesn’t have to feel like you’re throwing an application into thin air praying for someone to accept it. How?

By quieting the noise. By making it smaller. By having a solid idea of a college plan that makes sense for YOU.

Quiet the noise

College Admissions is a super personal process. It’s also one where everyone feels justified in butting straight into that personal process with their opinion and expertise. And EVERYONE becomes an expert right? When you’ve read your Common App essay more times than the cliff notes to your upcoming AP Lit exam and then a third opinion tells you to restructure it, well, that can cause some mania.

Sometimes you have quiet the noise around you. That means getting reflective and digging deep into your core. Trusting that tiny little voice that is actually shouting from inside your stomach…your gut. It’s screaming actually. Wanting you to listen to yourself, because at the end of the day, you’re the only person who can tell your story, in an authentic way. 

Narrow your resources and support down to a FEW key people. A FEW. These should be any of the following:

  • a trusted counselor
  • college admission representative/counselor from the institution you’re interested/applying to
  • a trusted financial aid counselor
  • someone to go when you feel it’s all too much (a friend, adult, counselor, etc.)

Quiet the noise around you to some trusted individuals and make sure you don’t leave out your gut. And when your friends start talking in the hall, or your Aunt comes over and begins the conversation with college, politely set a boundary and move on to a topic less…I don’t know…personal??! It’s OKAY to redirect the conversation. Quiet the noise.

Make it smaller 

When I have a massive project on my calendar with a million moving pieces and miles of to-do lists it seems daunting. Daunting can’t even describe it actually. Let’s name it the Mammoth of all projects. When I’ve got a Mammoth staring me down (and due to run through me in about a month) I HAVE to make it smaller to manage. Here’s how…

Prioritize tasks that will build momentum by asking yourself “what’s the one thing I can do right now that will help…” I learned this from Gary Keller’s book The One Thing and it’s amazing. If you’ve got an early deadline and essay work to do and you find yourself browsing on Amazon…asking yourself “what’s the one thing” redirects your focus in a big way.

Setting designated times in your calendar. Whatever you use to map out your time (calendar, agenda, Ical, notes in your phone, etc.) designate down small windows of time throughout your week that you can put your phone down and distractions away to complete your task. The beauty of this is not only are you giving dedicated focused time to your task, but you’re also able to relax knowing you have scheduled time to complete your task. If you wake up in the middle of the night panicking, you know you’ve already got time mapped out to get you going.

Minimize tabs, windows, alerts. This is HUGE. We are SO distracted by EVERYTHING. It’s insane. We don’t even know we’re doing it. As I’m typing this I only have one window open in my browser…the WordPress window that I’m typing in. Nothing else. Why? Well because if I have tabs open they are reminders of everything else I need to do, which makes it pretty difficult to manage this one. Email notifications? They don’t pop up. Instagram banner notifications on my phone? Turned off. Work email on my phone? Not even connected. Minimize and turn off as many alerts as possible. Not only will you find you can be present with the task at hand, you’ll also gain more mental will power to store for later use…trust me you’ll need it.

Have a solid idea of a college plan that fits for you

Read that sentence one more time. Have a solid idea of a college plan that fits for you. YOU. The more research you do into yourself, your college and why you’re applying in the first place will give you more empowerment to answer the question why. You’ll feel comfortable and confident when someone wants to input their opinion (which is usually biased and not data driven by the way). So give yourself some facts and nuggets of information that you can pull out of your hat when someone asks about the college you’re applying to that no one’s heard of. Example convo here:

Friend: “Hey Megan where are you applying?” 

Megan: “Oh! I’m super excited about University X!!!” 

Friend: “Wow, that’s random…isn’t that in the middle of nowhere?”

Megan: “Actually it’s kind of awesome, they’ve got this really cool creative writing program that lets me work with professors super early AND I can have the opportunity to write abroad and graduate in four years.” 

Friend: “Oh, well that’s kind of cool.” 

Be your own advocate. Remind yourself of why you’re applying and it’ll remind others in a way that brings ease and empowerment.

Remember this…you’re preparing for college, not the application process. Most students get it the other way around. Take the the time to pause. Remind yourself that one semester does not define you. You have the ability to define your outcome with any perspective you bring. What will you choose?

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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