Application avoidance is something I run into constantly. Don’t get me wrong. I have some students who are proactive about working with me. When I was a teacher, we called them students who advocate for themselves. They request video conference meetings. They write their essays early. They visit several colleges. They seem to be really excited about the process and the prospects of going to college. They’re often not my best students at all. Then there are the students who procrastinate, are indecisive, and aren’t good about communicating with me. They don’t answer their emails readily. They seem to be avoiding the process.
“Senioritis” can be the culprit. Three years of high school can be tiring and the next hump to get over can seem daunting. But the avoiders often are among my best students. The ones with 4.0 GPAs and mid-1500 SATs. We know the whole process of applying to college is daunting. It’s understandable to want to put it off. But let’s examine the deeper psychology. Elite students are successful at home and in their high schools. College might disrupt their success. On a subconscious level, they don’t want to go. They sense a foreboding. The thought of leaving high school and leaving the nest can be scary. And for good reason. The dropout rate for freshmen is 24 percent. Some for academic reasons, some for financial reasons, and some for simply being homesick or not fitting in socially.
The stress and anxiety that comes with the college admissions process affect both students and parents. Supplemental essays can be a burden on high school seniors who are participating in sports and activities or jobs as well as trying to keep up their GPAs. That’s why it’s a good idea to start in the summer. Common App essay prompts come out on August 1. Repeating prompts have been announced early in the last couple of years.
Early action and early decision deadlines have come and gone, but that’s not time to panic. It is time, however, to get serious. The UC deadline is November 30, and many top school applications are due right away in January. Early decision acceptance rates are slightly higher than regular decision acceptance rates. But part of that is because recruited athletes apply early. So applying early decision doesn’t provide the advantage some people think. It’s better to wait and send in a polished application than a rushed one.
One thing private (and high school) college admissions counselors can do is remind, nag, cajole, and coax. Parents need to resist the temptation to do too much of the same. Counselors don’t live with the student. Parents do. Students should know that getting their applications in early can mean enjoying the senior year more. Our senior checklist should be helpful to both students and parents. Meeting each milestone on the checklist will help students get to where they want to be.