Keeping Perspective in the College Application Process

By Karen Berlin Ishii
December 10, 2010

Applying to college is a stressful, hectic experience for both students and their families. How do you keep perspective? At a recent symposium in New York on the college admissions process, “The (Fat) Envelope, Please! Experts Answer Your Questions from College Prep to Admissions,” college experts discussed this challenge.

Elizabeth Wissner-Gross, an independent college admissions counselor on Long Island urged students and their parents to make organization a priority. With her own son, she said, she made a list of priorities in September which they shared with all his teachers and coaches, “so that everybody knew what his priorities were and he was then not … spending a lot of time running around school dodging people who thought he should be at their activities.” Bringing everyone into the circle with transparency helped her sons do what they needed to do to achieve their goals, even with a heavily scheduled agenda.

Well-known college coach Kat Cohen of IvyWise in New York City urges families to start the process early and take it in “baby steps”. She urges students to start researching colleges online – even attending college lectures online – getting a feel for the schools before visiting, even. Spread the college visits out during the school year, if possible, to see colleges while they are in session in order to imagine yourself there, she advises. By fall of senior year, students should have a lot of their essays written, their applications already coming together and they should know where they are applying and what the deadlines are.

Mark Speyer, senior college counselor at New York’s Columbia Prep High School, emphasizes that “the single most important thing parents can do is help with scheduling.” Parents can help students put aside their multi-tasking habits in order to concentrate on one thing at a time in this process filled with details and deadlines.

Andrea Van Niekerk, an independent college counselor with College Goals, and former Associate Director of Admissions at Brown University, urges parents to keep track of college deadlines in order to help their students stay organized. But also, parents need to be prepare to take different roles with their teen: “Sometimes it is to be a bracing, kind of motivational speaker, other times it’s to be sensible when they’re not being sensible, sometimes it’s simply about reminding them that this is about going to college – this is not life and death.”

Successfully navigating the college process – while seeing it in broader perspective – can be done if parents and students take time to get organized, take on tasks step-by-step, and recognize that getting into college is just one small step into adulthood.