At my kids’ insistence, I watched a bit of Lifetime’s made-for-tv movie Acceptance, about the stresses faced by three high school seniors applying to college. I think they expected me to recognize myself in the Joan Cusack character, a high-strung, nutty, shrewish mother obsessed with her daughter getting into Yale or Wellesley.
I see myself as being in the admissions business, although, thankfully, at the coaching end, not the judging end. I work with students and recent graduates who are applying to medical school and law school. Having done this work for nearly 15 years, it was next to impossible not to bring this accumulated wisdom home to my own children when they applied to college. So here are some of the things I nagged them about:
1. Start everything early. This will leave plenty of time for the unexpected, like breaking both arms or the computer going down the day of the deadline. (Okay – so I’m a catastrophist!)
2. Start everything early, part II. Good essays percolate. Leave ample time for inspiration, or to re-read with a fresh pair of eyes. There may be some folks who can write a brilliant first draft, but chances are, you’re not one of them.
3. Have confidence, and don’t be afraid to brag. But brag by showing the interesting, amazing things you’ve done. Your application is an opportunity to shine a light on the most impressive things about you, to make the admissions staff say, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have her in our community.”
4. Be organized and accurate. Don’t ever send in a half-baked effort. Remember, the folks at the other end are reading thousands of these, and don’t have the time or patience for something that is incomplete, or filled with errors. It makes it very easy for them to say no, and move on to the next one. And you don’t want to spend the rest of your life wondering if things could have turned out differently, if you’d just put in a little more effort.
Okay, so was that so bad? Does that warrant being thought of as the nutty Joan Cusack character? I truthfully did not care where my kids ended up going to school, as long as they gave their applications their best effort, and ended up at a place (one of many) that was a good match for them. And, not surprisingly, even Joan Cusack came around to that in the end.