|The Fine Line: Change is on the Horizon|
In past columns, I have likened the college process to a marathon (as opposed to a sprint) as well as to yoga (just breathe). This month, I suggest we consider the tight rope or perhaps tug of war as metaphors. The question is: when to start the college process in metaphor earnest? We know there is such a thing as starting too late (not the night before applications are due). However, is it possible to start too early?...
In past columns, I have likened the college process to a marathon (as opposed to a sprint) as well as to yoga (just breathe). This month, I suggest we consider the tight rope or perhaps tug of war as metaphors. The question is: when to start the college process in metaphor earnest? We know there is such a thing as starting too late (not the night before applications are due). However, is it possible to start too early? If so, how early is too early? The answer, as it so often is when it comes to college admission, is "it depends."
In an increasingly competitive college admission climate, it is wise to begin planning early. Notice I used the word, "planning" not "obsessing." The difficulty is, often the distinction between these two ideas is much like walking a tight rope or engaging in a tug of war. Anyone aware of the media coverage surrounding college admission in the past five years might believe that if one has not chosen the college of their dreams as an infant and started lining their life up accordingly, then all is lost. A recent National Public Radio story was entitled, NY Preschool Starts DNA Testing For Admission, suggesting that if a four year-old does not get positioned properly then their chances of success are doomed. There are some pre-schools that even publish a list of the colleges where their "graduates" are accepted some fourteen years later!
How about the print media? Listed below is a sample of only a few of the articles about college admission in the New York Times:
College Admissions Advice for 'Neurotic' Parents, April 12, 2012
Are Ninth Graders Ready for College Applications?, March 7, 2012
Early Admission Applications Rise, as Do Rejections, January 14, 2012
Early Applications Flood Harvard, November 22, 2011
Meet the New Super People, October 2, 2011
College Applications Continue to Increase. When Is Enough Enough?, November 7, 2010
Pulling an All-Nighter for the College Application, August 11, 2010
Higher Anxiety About Higher Education, April 12, 2009
Admission Impossible, March 16, 2008
Applications to Colleges Are Breaking Records, January 17, 2008
Even just reading the headlines is enough to put the characteristically balanced student or parent right over the edge! In fact, if you have the opportunity I would recommend everyone watch the documentary, Race to Nowhere
) about the pressure that today's students are under to succeed at all costs. There is a danger in becoming so fixated on college admission and increased selectivity that it dominates one's life and decision making.
While high school is in many ways preparation for college, admission should not drive every choice a student makes. It is a constant balance between thoughtfully planning ahead and honoring the joy and growth of the high school experience. The youngster who persists with a sport or instrument solely because they believe it will gain them acceptance into their dream school is misled, as is the student who performs countless hours of community service because he or she sees it as the silver bullet that will pave his or her path to college. College admission officers can see right through the dispassionate student who is trying to build their college resume. Conversely, colleges take notice of the student who thoughtfully engages in activities that speak to his/her interests and who pursues these passions with great energy and effort. Likewise, there is an ongoing tug of war that exists between building a broad foundation of academic excellence in courses that colleges want to see and classes that excite and inspire a student's desire to learn. If a student is so focused on college that he does not live in the moment, it often results in lost opportunities at a time when exploration and personal growth are fresh and important.
No doubt there is such a thing as starting too late. Again, the "when" depends on the student and family, but increasingly the college admission timeline has moved earlier in a student's high school career. This is in large part thanks to the prevalence of early action and early decision deadlines in early to mid-fall. Rather than fight this, I suggest we accept it, embrace it and plan accordingly. By starting in a timely manner we can avoid the panic and anxiety that the media hype seems to create.
In that vein, I am encouraging families to step up on the tight rope earlier with an awareness of what lies beneath, recognizing the potential pitfalls of leaning too far to one side. At this point, the class of 2013 is well into the college process and will only delve deeper as we progress through the summer and fall. Next school year, we will begin with the Class of 2014 with the Junior College Workshop on the morning of Saturday, October 13. Historically, this introduction to the process has been held in February or even later in the spring, however, this fall date will allow for better planning and the ability to ease into the process with a philosophical overview and more details to come throughout the junior year. I imagine that half my readers are gasping and saying to themselves, "this seems premature," and "can't we let these students enjoy high school?" The other half are breathing a sigh of relief and saying, "At last... it is about time; we have been ready for more on college since high school began." Both are legitimate responses and represent that fine line between too much and too little. Our hope is to provide families with the knowledge and resources to approach this process as they see fit.
With that in mind, please be aware of today's registration deadline for the June 9 ACT test date and the May 8 registration deadline for the June 2 SAT I and SATII subject tests. More information about these tests can be found in the upper school section of this week's DSENews. Spring weekends and summer are great times to visit colleges, whether it be on a dedicated college trip or driving through a campus while on a family vacation. You may also be interested in a series of college admission fairs hosted at a number of colleges in the northeast. Information can be found at: http://www.neacac.org/cf_spring.cfm
Finally, students are wise to think about what they are doing with their time during the summer months. While sitting on a dock and watching the waves roll in has certain benefits, they are also well advised to explore unique opportunities for internships, volunteer work, summer study, or simply to hold a steady job. Students are encouraged to brainstorm ideas with their parents and advisor as to how they might make the most of this down time while also allowing time for recharging and relaxation. As Aristotle argued, "well begun is half done." Never were truer words spoken when finding the balance upon stepping up onto that tightrope.
Director of College Counseling