Surviving College Application Season

Dear Friends Immersed in the College Application Process,

Ignore Mildred. Everything will work out the way it’s intended. Stay strong and be positive (B+).



A few days ago, I was talking with mom friends whose kids are knee-deep in the college application process. They are stressed out. I started having flashbacks to this time last year when our senior was going through it. I remember feeling unsettled with all those “should I” questions right before preparing to hit send on applications. Our senior would come home from school after mulling things over with fellow classmates and wonder:

College App Folder

“Should I have taken one more year of language?”

“Should I add a few more safeties to my college list even though I already finalized it twice?”

“Should I take the SAT/ACT yet again to try and get more points added to my score?” etc…

This uncertainty seemed to not only be infiltrating our household but other students’ homes as well. But you know what? All that second-guessing turned out to be a waste of precious time and energy. Things were the way they were and they were just fine.

Looking back on the process, I feel comfortable telling friends this today: it will all work out for the best, and you have no way of predicting what that will be so try to relax and enjoy the ride. Just make sure to ignore that annoying Mildred from your book club as she tries to cast doubt! When she corners you in the checkout line for an update on your senior and proceeds to imply you’re crazy for not having at least 25 schools on your child’s list, hiring a Pulitzer Prize winning author to write their essays, or researching a long-lost cousin whose neighbor went to Yale that can write a heartfelt letter of recommendation, tell her to go pound sand.

I’m not here to say your child will definitely get into their dream school. Yes that could happen, or it may not, but it’s actually beside the point. What I am saying is that it will work out – however that looks. Your child has worked hard for four years. Don’t let them forget that (an easy thing to do as they’re attempting to sum up all their experience in a neat little package). Tell them to feel confident hitting send on those applications they’ve put so much effort into. They will get into schools for which they are deemed a good fit; trust the process.

I could never have predicted which college our now freshman would be attending this fall any more than I could have told you which film would take home the Oscar for Best Picture. But guess what? Our entire family couldn’t be happier with the final outcome, and freshman friends seem to be in similar spaces now with their decisions.  

These success stories aren’t the only reason I feel confident sharing my “it’s going to be okay” advice today. I’m also passing along words of wisdom from others. No, not from the many knowledgeable and prestigious college speakers I went to hear at various book tour roadshows over the years (and believe me, I attended many). Nor from high school graduates even! What I found to be the most valuable piece of calming advice amidst the overwhelming facts and figures we were slowly drowning in came from a group of high school seniors. They were participants on a panel during College Night at a local school, and had been asked to discuss their experience with the application process.

This College Night was held near the end of the school year, and one senior told the audience that he and his peers amazingly seemed to have all survived the application process…just fine. He had apparently been surprised that things worked out for everyone he knew. He just wished he had known it was all going to be okay beforehand so he could’ve enjoyed his senior year more. Other seniors on the panel chimed in with similar perspective.

Damn. Can we all just learn from those teens right now and trust that things will indeed be okay? And remind our kids that their senior year is a special time to enjoy as much as possible? I know I will do a better job of having this mindset when it’s our second child’s turn at this rodeo.

I personally believe that everything in life happens for a reason. So stay strong and B+ my friends. You will get through this roller coaster ride and live to tell, just like I am now.

In closing, a few more thoughts for anyone interested in what I found as helpful insight along the way:

  • Be 100% sure a senior truly loves a school before applying Early Decision. While these acceptance rates are typically higher and it’s attractive to want to play those odds, the concept of buyer’s remorse can be a tough teen lesson (e.g., If I got into that school so easily I probably should have tried for XYX instead! Now I’m committed!)
  • Don’t take the ACT (or SAT) more than twice, as I haven’t heard it make a significant difference in one’s score — and teens really could use the extra sleep instead of testing again.
  • Don’t rule out a “less-prestigious” college with a great honors program.
  • Submitting 12 applications from a balanced list seemed to be the average number most sane parents I know held to and were ultimately pleased with.

So there you have it, friends. My tips on surviving the college application process this fall.  Feel free to share below any additional advice or thoughts you may have to help others going through this adventure.  In the meantime, best wishes to you all on this exciting milestone!