Staying Sane During Application Season

Staying Sane During Application Season

By guest

Today we have a special guest blogger: Gwyeth Smith Jr., also known as Smitty. Enjoy!

After spending nearly 40 years as a guidance counselor, I can’t help feeling apprehensive whenever November arrives. Early application time is here, and that means even the calmest 12th graders and their parents lose their cool.

Just a few years ago, a mother called me from her garage. She whispered that her daughter was in tears as she tried to sort through conflicting advice on essays from an English teacher, a guidance counselor, a private consultant, and of course the mom herself. Here it goes again, I thought to myself, the stress of November.

I told the mother what I’d already told the daughter: Get rid of all those experts. When it comes to writing a college application, too much advice is almost as bad as no advice at all. And you need to maintain your energy, and sanity, at least until regular applications are due.

In many communities, I’ve found, parents feel more pressure than kids at this time of the year. Here are seven tips I give students who want the adults around them to ease up:

1. Spend whole weekends without discussing college apps. If you brings up the subject, that’s fine—but don’t let your parents prolong the discussion too much.

2. Tell your mom and dad you want to set aside 40 minutes or so every week to go to a diner or coffee shop to talk about SATs and ACTs, financial issues, and other application business. Your parents should designate that place as the “family guidance office.”

3. Ask your parents to urge relatives to find conversation starters other than, “Where are you applying?” or “Did your friends get in early?”

4. Gently tell your parents you really don’t want to be compared to an older sibling who went through the process, or to Tyler or Emma down the street.

5. Don’t worry about those rankings of “best” colleges that seem to intrigue so many adults. A spreadsheet cannot determine whether you will fit into a college.

6. At the same time, don’t use the term “safety college.” Just as you don’t want to marry a “safety” girlfriend or boyfriend, you don’t want to spend the next four years stuck on a campus everyone in the family refers to as a “safety.”

7. If you you haven't figured out which academic or career path you want to follow by the winter of 12th grade, that’s okay! Not everyone has a definitive direction at age 17. Consider a “gap” year to work or do volunteer service. If you choose this option, you’ll need a plan, a mentor, and some academic challenge at a night program or community college.

All these tips reflect the overarching advice I share with students: Help everyone around you remember that you are the one who is heading to college, not your parents.

Smitty is the subject of a new book called ACCEPTANCE: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges—and Find Themselves, by David L.  Marcus (Penguin Press). For more details, check out

Topics: college applications, college admissions

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