College-bound seniors in the Eastern US saw more than their college plans take a bump this week, as Hurricane Sandy hit land three days before the November 1st early application deadline for many colleges. Recognizing most of these students had other things to think about—and realizing they may not have power to receive college applications anyway—many colleges have extended the deadline. Students need to check individual college Web sites for the details; Common Application can’t post new deadlines without causing havoc to the entire system, and some colleges are extending the deadline only to those students who were impacted by the storm—so the details matter.
This thoughtful response to a most difficult time is cause to be grateful, but it should also inspire some reflection. Counselors and students are reporting a record frenzy of early applications this year, as students are more eager than ever to hear back from colleges, and colleges are anxious to rein in early applicants to build solid classes, improve their percentage of admitted students who end up attending, or—I’m sorry to say—move up in the college rankings. While part of this rush is based on thoughtful engagement, there is a sense among counselors that more of it is based on fear; students afraid they will have no college choices if they wait; colleges offering “snap” applications that waive essays because they are afraid students will pass them by; parents who worry students will see their grades drop if they keep applying to college, so it’s just best to get it over with now.
It certainly makes sense to seek shelter from real storms, but it’s best to take a different approach to depressions that are created by man-made hot air. Some colleges admit a large number of students who apply early, but that’s assuming the student presents a well-produced application in time for a November review. Many colleges don’t offer early deadlines, and no college will offer admission to an applicant who sends in a final application that’s really a second draft. Sandy reminds us that speed can kick up all kind of unwanted results; find your pace, and stay with it.
Speed is also the culprit when students respond to “special” applications where a college only wants your signature—because what most they really want is your name. It’s a small number of colleges that offer these easy apps for the benefit of the student; far too many want more students to apply simply so they can deny more students, and raise their status as a “selective” college. Unless you have the time to investigate this college app the way you would investigate a new smartphone app, the best option to select with a snap app is Delete. College costs time, money, and energy, and it’s best to use all three wisely, even if you are going to live forever.
Parents who want the process “over” have a point—students can’t always do well in school when they want to do well with college applications. That’s why it’s best for students to set aside two hours each day of the weekend to work on their remaining apps, and spend the rest of their time focusing on school, work, and life in general. Rushed essays written at 10 on Tuesday night don’t sound inspired; they sound as tense and as tired as their authors are after a full day of school. Applying to college deserves your best effort, and you deserve a break; the weekend writing rule gives you a chance to do both, while your application fears are left blowing in the wind.