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  • Writer's pictureLiz Gardner

Dear High School Juniors

Dear High School Juniors,

It goes on. Yet we move forward, still.

You’re probably wondering what the College Application process will be like for you amidst this ongoing pandemic, political firestorm, and escalating uncertainty. You’re probably wondering what college will be like as well; whether you choose to seek admission for Fall of 2022 or design a Gap Year for yourself, it’s hard to know just what things will be like in another year.

With only 2.5% of colleges holding classes fully in person, and another 5% attempting the hybrid model, most schools are demanding full tuition from students despite an almost complete shift into virtual learning — and a decidedly different, less dynamic learning experience. As well, the usual 40,000 or so students seeking Gap Year opportunities have blossomed to a predicted 400,000 this year, further reflecting the uncertainty — and amplifying the Great Divide between families who have the resources to continue to justify the cost of either continuing online learning at the higher ed level or paying similar tuition rates for Gap Year programs. Not all students can entertain options of paying for or even navigating a virtual learning experience, given the technological requirements not always easily met by many families. As well, typically, the majority of Gap Year students are from families with estimated incomes of over $100K; since so many families have taken a hit, I’d bet there are fewer and fewer students with this option, making Covid Era decisions around higher ed complicated indeed.

Whatever your situation, we don’t really know when things will return to normal, or if they’ll re-balance into a new normal — and what that will be like. The only thing we can really count on is doing essential individual work on ourselves to move things forward. This holds true for the college process as well, which needs to be reframed around the more intrinsic rewards inherent in doing the deeper work — to build a strong sense of self, presence, confidence, and understanding, and infusing whatever shape the College Journey takes with a stronger, more authentic sense of purpose and direction. This is a good thing, indeed.

I wanted to drop a few things into your noggin to start thinking about — nothing urgent, nothing to induce any panic, but merely a few things to get you started with the college process. Backburner stuff — for now. A few guidelines. Some support. Reach out if you need more.

The most important thing is to remember that applying to colleges is indeed a process, with many different elements, steps, and factors to consider — set against a backdrop of new complications, with Covid restrictions and changes mucking up an already challenging terrain. There are, of course, a zillion different ways to go about the college journey. Everyone is different, after all, with a vast range of resources available to them — or not. Whatever your situation, you'll need a firm footing in your own understanding of who you are and what matters to you in order to make your way through such challenging terrain with a little more confidence and ease.

Here’s guidepost number one: KNOW YOURSELF. BE YOURSELF. Take some time to really get to know who you are and what matters most to you. Set boundaries around this space — calendar space, or regular time when you can do this work; physical space, or your own quiet space where you can most comfortably do the work of interiority; and head and heart space, or your own growing sense of purpose and direction that is rooted not in what others want for you but what you want for yourself. Let your unfolding, burgeoning self-awareness and sense of becoming be the lens through which you feel out your initial exploratory college visits; tune in to what feels right and what doesn’t. Trust your intuition throughout the process. And if you need to create more breathing room and clear out some of those other voices crowding those essential spaces, do that. It’s important that you can listen to your own voice more than anything.

Knowing yourself well makes the process much easier — and richer. Having support, being accompanied on this journey, while still making the process your own can also deepen the benefits. If you don’t have help with it, reach out. You’ll need some support; let me know if I can help customize what I offer to better meet your needs.

GET STARTED EARLY AND SLOW THINGS DOWN. After all, it takes time to figure out who you are, what matters most to you, and to do the deeper work to tune and listen to that interior landscape when you're on your own and also as you start to go out and about — masked and distanced — so you can gain clarity about what your next, right steps might be. Given the ongoing uncertainty — which is indeed an ever-present facet of being human — being able to open up your map and see many different possibilities for yourself remains most important to the process.

It takes time, too, to unearth your stories and find meaning there, and to build a firm, happy grounding in self-awareness, understanding, and confidence. You are creating your own path, step by step. Exciting! And also daunting! Getting started early can help minimize overwhelm and anxiety — and also redirect the way you think about it as a welcome reflection point, an opportunity to build a wonderful tool kit, and get to know yourself really well.

IT’S A JOURNEY — embrace it as such. Make it your own. Want some help? I’d be happy to be able to accompany you on that journey, with support and encouragement, and also concrete, next-right-steps. Let me know how I can help. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few things you can do now, on your own, to get started on your journey.


  • Dedicate a composition notebook to the college process, to this work — to the art of becoming. This is your first step at both creating space for yourself to give it the attention it deserves and laying claim to the experience as your own. Your college notebook will become your most essential tool for knowing yourself, unearthing stories and finding meaning there, cultivating and practicing your authentic voice, and developing strong writing skills. Make it your own. Most of my students end up filling their notebooks with free writes, daily pages, blocks, maps, timelines, and brainstorms, spiral meditations and x-pages, research notes and questions, and interactive, creative responses to my guided exercises. Their exploratory free writes are later sharpened into first drafts, then edited and reworked and polished before submission. Many of my students continue notebooking as a daily practice long after our work together ends. Read this FlipSwitch blog post here for more insight into why Notebooking takes center stage in this process.

  • Make a Map of Yourself, on big enough white paper, showing all the things you do (before and during Covid), that you care about, that take up space in your life. Both in and out of school. Summer travel, programs, paid and unpaid work. Service work. Academic programs, interests. Hobbies. Sports. Arts. Theater. Music. Clubs and Affinity groups. Leadership roles. Family responsibilities. Favorite places. Your overlapping communities. Childhood Obsessions. The stuff you like to do when no one else is around and you have a blank canvas stretch of day ahead of you. Get the idea? This can show you what’s important to you, where you might want to deepen your engagement, or conversely, do some pruning. Seeing it all in one place can also help you better see what all your many Activities say about you, how they’re connected, and where your stories are. Use what you unearth here to start writing about yourself — what and who matters most to you, what your biggest challenges and triumphs have been, where your growth has come from, how your interest in a particular academic program came about. This type of writing can help you get clarity on what you want for yourself as you move forward into sculpting your school list — and then as you begin to talk and write about who you are and what you want during interviews, and while writing your essay and supplements. Keep adding to your map as you go; you are, after all, like everyone else, a work in progress. The growth you experience between now and when you have to make final decisions in May of 2022 will be tremendous.

  • Create a College Folder in Google Drive and get organized. Use it to organize folders and documents for getting started on developing the written elements of the Common App—the Essay and Supplements, Activities List, Academic Honors, and Additional Writing. Use it to keep an ongoing Checklist for yourself, with requirements and deadlines, bulleted to-dos and tasks, for each school you are applying to.

  • Start thinking about the ACT and SAT — within the greater context of what the test means, how schools’ test policies have changed, how the two are different (and the same), and how best to maximize time and resources devoted to the tests within the ongoing, shifting landscape of your list of potential colleges — and current trends. Keep in mind, however, that the testing landscape has been irrevocably changed by the pandemic — and that’s a good thing. UC schools have eliminated the test requirements, and the College Board just announced that they’ve done away with the SAT Subject tests and Essay portion of the SAT.

  • Start exploring colleges online, making good use of their virtual offerings. Nothing formal yet — just virtual tours and info sessions to start thinking about what feels right, and what might not feel right. Jot down your impressions in your college notebook (from small details to bigger ones); this will help you start to give shape to your college list — slowly but surely — and bring your attention to the factors that are most important to you. You can check on schools' offerings and updates within the Covid-context here: Until the world opens up, you might want to restrict your in-person visits to drive-bys, or masked walkabouts. Keep yourself — and your family — safe.

  • Use your Map to start thinking about what you want to convey about yourself through your applications that might go beyond what your teacher recs and transcript will say. Your aim is to create and submit balanced applications for each and every school that presents you in full bloom. Again, take notes and do some brainstorming in your college notebooks. Pay attention to your gut; trust it.

I’m taking on a new batch of juniors for the upcoming College Season. I work closely — though remotely — with my students to ensure that they feel absolutely empowered and supported on their journey. I customize and personalize my programs according to what they need and who they are, and where they are in the process. I am also working hard to create new delivery vehicles to make my supportive FlipSwitch College Ready programs, resources, and interactive, creative companion materials available through new platforms so that more students can benefit from having more support and guidance to help them move through the college application process with greater ease. Stay tuned — and be in touch!

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