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  • Writer's pictureLiz Gardner

Last-Minute College Apps: Staying Energized

If you’re like most of my students, you’ve already submitted at least one college application. Congrats. Yee-ha! Well done. Now what? For students awaiting EA and ED decisions on December 15th, having to ready supplements for a batch of just-in-case RD schools can feel rather cumbersome — but absolutely necessary. Even though the decision to apply ED to a school requires students to put all their eggs in one basket — Show us how much you love us! Pinky swear on your life you’ll attend if we accept you! — the essence of the college journey begs the opposite. Don’t count on getting into your first choice. Instead, keep going. Keep making things happen for yourself! Count instead on the uncertainty of everything — and the power of your own hard work. Reframing the inevitability of the ongoing college work around continuing to create an entire landscape of possibility for themselves can help re-energize the journey. And finding a hack here and there can help, too!

Enjoy the Confetti. Again and again.

With EA and ED deadlines pockmarking November, and a large percentage of students applying early these days, your house has most likely been the scene of at least one post-submission quasi-celebration. And oh, what an amazing feeling it is to submit your first college application! The Common App, for all its shortcomings, does get a lot of things right, and the celebratory confetti that turns your computer screen into an impromptu, raucous moshpit of colorful I-so-fly fun upon submission is one of them. The best part? The option to keep partying with a single click. Woo-hoo!

Especially now — as December’s waning daylight set against the ongoing pandemic challenges the invincible summer within — it’s hard to keep that sense of accomplishment feeling quite so shiny and new every time you submit an app. Some of my students have reported that the more applications they submit, the more the confetti loses its luster. And I’ve seen it on their faces — the full range of emotion and expression of hard work — when I screenshot their reactions over FaceTime submissions. Such delight and relief on those faces! Such pride! And — uncertainty, fear, exhaustion, too, mingling in with the visible joy. The farther down the application road they travel, I often notice a slow fade into a more matter-of-fact, deadpan submission face forcing delight. Another one done — check! Yee-ha. I need more coffee. (from my end, I'm smiling so hard for my students. I am nothing but proud of them. Gems, every single one of them.)

Lean In To The Work You've Already Done

There’s nothing like the first, after all. A student reminded me today, though, of the importance of remembering the whole of the work you’ve done on your Common App when you’re submitting to schools lower down on your list, when it feels, perhaps, as if all you’re submitting is a supplement or two. Don’t forget how hard you’ve worked on everything that came before so you can keep enjoying the confetti. I hope you let yourself lean into all you’ve accomplished with your application already. Some days, those little surges of Dopamine are all we’ve got!

There are other things, too, that can dampen Submission Elation. Even with testing and campus travel *mostly* out of the picture for this college season, applying to college can often feel like a racket — like getting married, say, or dying. There isn’t anything simple or cheap about it. Applications are just one of many costs embedded in the college application process, which can include multiple testing seatings and sendings, application fees, college trips, etc, and can add up to over $4500, ack! I remember well when my younger son applied to college, having to cast a wide net because of our financial aid needs, and had to pay for three ACT seatings, the cost for submitting all three (the first four schools are free) to each school he was applying to in order to superscore the test (12 x 3 x $13 = $468), application fees to 16 schools, plane travel to visit, yadda yadda. It was ghastly. And with more and more colleges customizing the Common App to their own specifications with additional writing supplements ranging from simple 250-word responses to a veritable avalanche of essay prompts and short answers, the workload has increased by a truckload in recent years. The application process, which has typically demanded a lot from students, now requires students to spend an inordinate amount of time and resources to nuance and finesse a process that has only grown more complicated amidst the shifting priorities and escalating uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.

The combination of mounting application fees and application requirements that move beyond the Common App can be a huge drain on a student’s finances and energy — and mood. At as much as $105 a pop, and a 2017 average of $43, application fees ain’t cheap — and they add up. And for some students, having to pay for their apps themselves adds a layer of considerations and accountability that many students don’t have to think about. When it’s your credit card you’re pulling out, it can change the feel of the submission — for good and bad. Mixed feelings can reign: I’m proud of myself, but am I enough?, Is this worth it?, Do I even want to go to this school?, I’m so bone tired of this work, I’m scared I’ll be rejected, I don’t know what the world will be like, I don’t want to take on all that college debt if the world is going to sh*t, I’m tired of having to prove myself worthy, Please just someone accept me and let me be done with it.

The process demands so much of students — just at a time when they’re trying to close out their first semester of senior year with a bang. Optimally, students should be able to jumpstart the college application process junior year, slowing down the process to allow for critical time to deepen their understanding of who they are, what they want, and what matters most to them — before investing so much of themselves in trying to find the best match for themselves, and quite often, binding themselves to an ED agreement. Quite often, though, students are left stranded trying to figure out the complications on their own, without much guidance or support, and find themselves grasping — trying to meet someone else’s expectations and get it all done in a heartbeat. The process asks students to dedicate regular time over the course of many months filling out their Common Apps, developing and writing the essay and multiple supplements — both of which have gained in importance this year, given the absence of testing — pulling together and submitting arts portfolios and auditions, highlight reels, recommendations, and resumes, navigating remote interviews, and amping up their virtual engagement with enthusiasm and frequency. Here I am again! I am so interested in your school and I will show you in all these different ways! It’s no wonder students can be a bit cranky at times about the whole thing. It’s hard to stay energized, upbeat, confident under all that pressure.

Keep Imagining — and Creating — the Possibilities

Pressure indeed. Senior year is always tough, and now, amid a raging pandemic, students are facing a whole host of new challenges. First and foremost, students have to stay present and focused in their current world, staying on top of their mental and physical health, academics, and their many commitments outside the classroom (even though the pandemic has certainly restricted these), while also starting to imagine life beyond high school — an often rich, full-world distraction lavishly created around their first choice. Continuing to research their schools of choice by taking advantage of virtual offerings can be a good way to stay energized and excited about all the possibilities. Head to the admissions pages, but go beyond, too, in order to access a less-presentational version of the school. Reddit threads. Niche. Instagram pages for the programs and clubs and activities you're most interested in. It's important to discover what truly makes a school unique so that you, in turn, can share your own particulars in your supplements to better finesse — and demonstrate — a healthy match between you and the schools you're applying to.

It's Ok to Hit the Easy Button Sometimes

When it comes time for submission, many students want to maximize the work they’ve done by submitting to schools that don’t require additional work — or payment. Sometimes students just need to add a couple of mid-range schools to balance out their list. Sometimes supplements can be upcycled, repurposed, or refashioned to work for other schools. But it's always good to have a few schools in the mix that don't require additional supplemental work — or application fees. We all need to find ways to hit the easy button sometimes. No shame, no guilt.

So, here ya go. Have at it.

A partial list of colleges and universities who require no application fee can be found here. A partial list of colleges and universities who require no supplements can be found here. For cross-referencing purposes, Colby, Grinnell, Kenyon, and Connecticut College are four schools that fit both bills — no supplements, and no application fees. Thank you!

Can I help you with any zero hour work — getting your essay in order, getting those supplements done, or just putting a final polish on your writing? Be in touch! Happy to help.

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