By Eric, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
Well, we’ve eclipsed the early application deadlines! I can hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from the school hallways and even the deep admissions-related subreddits.
For so many students around the world, their eyes and efforts have been singularly focused on college. Years of studying, practicing in athletics and the arts, preparing for tests, and enduring numb fingers from writing essays all culminate in the decisions that will roll out in the coming weeks. I’m generalizing, but whether you’ve had your sights set on the same college since elementary school or you were later to the college search game, we celebrate your success in positioning yourself best for your colleges of choice.
In these times, with so much riding on college acceptances, it’s important to recognize the team of people who have supported you. And at the risk of sounding corny (I’m okay with it!), the holiday season is upon us.
There are a few ways to express gratitude as the blinders are lifted, and you can focus your eyes again on your periphery, pulling them away from the Common Application, even if only for a few short weeks.
Giving Thanks to the Adults Who Have Helped You
Adolescence is a period of rapid biological and psychosocial changes. Conflicts between parent(s) or guardian(s) and children become more frequent and more intense during adolescence.
And while both parties are often doing their best, each can get on the other’s nerves! I will never forget when I was applying to college and asked my mom to pay for one of my application fees. Her response was, “Eric, I love you so much, but your voice feels like sandpaper on my brain!” I cowered and retreated to my room. I was a self-involved teenager and did not recognize that my mom worked long hours to support our family, and her patience was worn thin.
Think about it: If you were able to study karate for eight years, it is important to understand and recognize who bought you that first Gi and drove you to the dojo three days a week. Who nursed you when you sprained your ankle? I bet that when you filled out your activities list on the Common Application, you failed to remember at least a few things that never would have happened without the help of your parent or guardian.
No matter what the experience of researching and applying to colleges has been like, there is an adult who played a significant role in the journey and most of that road has been paved with love. Recognizing that they have truly done their best – which at times still made them absent or frustrating or annoying – is something that you need to acknowledge.
Don’t forget that, in less than a year from now, you might be leaving home for the first time (hopefully to your dream school!). This can be terrifying for people who still see you as “their baby.” Be kind to them. Say you appreciate them. Write it down. Do something to show that you recognize what they have done for you.
Recognizing the Efforts of Your Teachers
Teachers have chosen a career that can be immensely challenging. They are notoriously overworked and underpaid. But many of them feel a sense of responsibility to impart wisdom to the next generation of leaders (that’s you!), so take a moment to thank them for creating lessons, endlessly grading papers, and generally dealing with your shenanigans day in and day out.
Trust me, it is exhausting. We do not expect a lot. So, a small gesture can go a long way! And several of those teachers and counselors have helped you formally in the admissions process. I wrote 32 letters of recommendation on behalf of my seniors, and I take it very seriously. I’ve known some of my students for years and have witnessed them navigate the challenges of working for over a year on Zoom. Some of them have cried in my office over breakups or failed tests, and others have played Bananagrams with me for hours to reduce stress.
Your teachers are the ones who communicate to your prospective colleges what kind of student you will be in the classroom. If you sit in the front row with your hand up, it is usually easy to craft an impactful letter of recommendation. But we do notice the quieter students, too. Maybe you don’t participate in classroom discussions much, but when you do chime in, people listen. Perhaps you sit in the back doodling on your notebook, but housed within you is an amazing penchant for art and design. We notice these things, and we work hard to convey to colleges how you will contribute to their academic communities.
And don’t forget your college counselor! Your counselor is the adult whose letter tells the admissions officer what kind of human you are. Beyond the classroom, what will you be like as a roommate? Who will you be as a campus leader? What kinds of organizations and clubs might you join to enrich the community in other ways? These people scaffold you and add dimensions to your application that you might not even see.
Take a moment to recognize the hours of work that your teachers and counselors do behind the scenes. A thoughtful, personalized, hand-written card goes a long way. Show that you understand that your teachers are rounded humans too.
I remember getting a mug that read, “It’s a Bananagrams thing, you wouldn’t understand.” I use it daily and smile, thinking of one of my very favorite students.
Showing Appreciation for Your Peers
You have the opportunity to give your peers a gift this holiday season. I’m not talking about physical gifts but rather respect! The inter-competitive nature of the college admissions process is taxing and unrelenting. Unfortunately, it can bring out the worst in some students. I hear from my students all the time about grade comparison and even trying to discourage their friends from applying to the same colleges as them because they think that it will affect their chances of admission (it won’t, so please don’t do that!).
Some students are very open about where they are applying and what their top-choice colleges are. Some are less vocal or would rather keep this information private. Respect these decisions. I had a student this year who approached me saying that she felt like she was in a lose-lose battle with her peers. She explained, “Whenever we get a test back, my classmates ask me what I got on the test. If I tell them and I did better, they get mad at me, and if I don’t tell them, then they get mad at me for not telling them.” It’s so easy to be kind in this situation.
Also, realize that early admissions decisions will be released in just a few weeks, which provides another opportunity for kindness and generosity. One student might be excited about the prospect of going to a particular college that is one of your safeties. Rather than saying, “That school is so easy to get into! I’m applying there just as a backup,” you could show some excitement for your friend. Get in the habit of celebrating the successes of others.
And then there is the biggest opportunity of all. In December, there is a chance that you will not get into a school that is your top choice, but another student will be accepted there. I challenge you to congratulate that person. Put that on social media instead of complaining about how they don’t deserve it. Keep in mind that you are probably going to get into another student’s dream school, and you could be the bigger person and console that student.
All in all, this is an article about decency. I want to encourage support, gratitude, and opportunity because inserting some kindness into this process can make a huge difference.
So, as we are in a bit of a holding pattern until early decisions are released, take a moment for reflection and see how you can give thanks to the people around you. Good luck, and enjoy some well-deserved rest over the coming weeks!