Frequently Asked Questions
I haven’t cured cancer—yet. Will I be able to get into college?
Good news! Regardless of what you’ve heard…you do not need to have cured cancer by the time you are 18 to get accepted to college. Even the most highly selective ones.
I’ve heard that colleges are looking for well-rounded kids. How many extracurricular activities should I be involved in? Exactly how round do I need to be?
My philosophy is that students should be involved in the extracurriculars that excite them and interest them. There is no magic formula for extracurricular activities. Some students will have a wide range of activities that pique their interest. Others will find only two to three and delve further into them. Regardless, this is a time of self-exploration for students and they should never be involved in an activity because they think it’s what colleges are looking for. Don’t get too bogged down in checking off activities just because you (or your parents) think it will look good on a résumé. Colleges aren’t on the lookout for specific activities. They just use them to get part of the “picture” of the student as they try to find their best matches.
But wait—I’ve heard colleges are looking for “pointy kids.” What does that even mean? How pointy do I need to be?
Colleges are looking for kids who don’t seem to have contrived résumés that check every extracurricular box. They want kids who have interests and who have pursued those interests. For some students, that will be just one or two interests that they have dug into, making them into “pointy kids” and for others, it will be a more well-rounded pursuit of a variety of interests—think “star-shaped kids.” Most importantly, both “pointy kids” and “star-shaped kids” should pursue those activities that interest them most. Remember, these interests should be organic and student-driven. Your parents may not see the value in some of your choices, but our world is changing quickly, and most activities will have some sort of future benefit.
My school doesn’t have clubs. What should I do? How do I get leadership experience?
Your activities and leadership don’t have to come from your high school experiences. Did you know the following count as an activity/EC?
- Responsibilities at home like babysitting, elderly care, meal cooking, and cleaning
- Hobbies like cooking, gardening, dance, blogging, and weightlifting
- A job like making smoothies, walking dogs, babysitting, flipping burgers, or lifeguarding
What should I do in the summers?
When you’re old enough to hold a summer job, you should! Colleges are looking for students with real world experience, and there’s no better way to get real world experience than learning about customer service while serving up smoothies. No need to worry about summers packed with internships or fancy-pants programs at this stage. Of course, if you are genuinely interested and passionate about a particular summer internship or program, then by all means, pursue it if it fits in your family lifestyle and budget. On top of that, I’d still advise you to get a job down at the smoothie bar.
Here’s what William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Harvard Admissions, says about summer: “Bring summer back. Summer need not be totally consumed by highly structured programs, such as summer schools, travel programs, or athletic camps. While such activities can be wonderful in many ways, they can also add to stress by assembling ‘super peers’ who set nearly impossible standards. Activities in which one can develop at one’s own pace can be much more pleasant and helpful. An old-fashioned summer job that provides a contrast to the school year or allows students to meet others of differing backgrounds, ages, and life experiences is often invaluable in providing psychological downtime and a window on future possibilities. Students need ample free time to reflect, to recreate (i.e. to ‘re-create’ themselves without the driving pressure to achieve as an influence), and to gather strength for the school year ahead.”
I've waited too long! I'm already a senior and I'm lost! Will I even be able to find a college that is a good fit for me?
Absolutely! Some of the best college choice outcomes have come from students who didn’t start the process until October of senior year. Okay…taking this approach makes for a stressful few months or so, but that might be better than several stressful years. And when kids (and parents) aren’t focusing all their energy into the college admissions process for years, teens can spend that time genuinely and authentically furthering their own passions and interests, and these will shine through on an application.
When should I really start thinking about and begin the application process ?
Look at your own level of interest. We don’t want you to burn out by senior year, but in general, junior year is a good starting point. Of course, if you need to get started sooner to calm anxiety levels, then you should, but make it more like a check-in-once-a-month kind thing.
Keep in mind that you need to be aware of subject tests, PSAT for National Merit, and taking a comfortable but challenging course load. Also get in involved in personally meaningful activities, beginning your freshman year.
How many colleges should I apply to?
I recommend applying to 8 to 12 colleges, but again that is student-dependent. Some students will have a much more focused “better-fit” list than others, so they can probably apply to fewer schools because their match ratio will be higher. Others will need to apply to a wider range of schools as they develop and learn more about themselves through the college search and application process.
I’m just so stressed out by the whole thing. How do I cope with it without going nuts?
You’re gonna have to tame the Admissions Stress Monster. Dealing with your own stress as you go through these next few months is key.
- Be involved and present—in your health (both mental and physical), with your family, with your friends, in your schoolwork, in your school activities, and in your life.
- Practice gratitude. Make a daily list of things you are thankful for. Even during all your stress, what is good? Are you happy for air conditioning or heating? Are you grateful for ice cream? Or for that amazing teacher who sparked something in you? Or what about your dad’s silly dad jokes? There’s nothing too small here, but when we stop and think about it, it can take away some of the anxiety and stress.
- Lean in to your fear, frustration, anxiety, and stress. Right now this is what it is, so tell it to come on in. Sometimes, just saying that makes it okay. It’s okay to be stressed and worried. It’s normal. Don’t try to run away or suppress it. Lean in and face it and embrace it. Think about it. Assess it. If something is making you afraid, that can often be an indicator that you’re doing the right thing! Remember that, and I know this drives some of you up-the-wall, bat-shit crazy, but this experience really is so much about the journey and not the outcome. And you will learn more about yourself from any perceived “failures” or disappointments than acceptances to a certain school. It’s true. It pisses you off, but it’s true.
- Meditation. Take three minutes every day and focus on your breathing. That’s all. No need to clear your brain. Just focus on your breathing. Be mindful of what’s happening to you. Is your mind wandering? Cool! That means you’ve been successful with your mindful meditation because you discovered that your mind had wandered away from focusing on your breathing. It’s no biggy. Just come back to your breathing. This is such a simple practice, and so many people get caught up in the “I could never clear my brain” or “I can’t relax” part, but that’s not what it’s about. You don’t have to clear your brain or relax. There are no rules. Just focus on your breathing for three minutes. It’s that simple.
Wow! I have so many more questions!!! What do I do?
No worries. You can contact me in lots of ways: instagram; twitter; the subreddit, applyingtocollege; or email me through our contact page. I want to help you find the zen in your college admissions journey.