Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reading Essays on Thanksgiving? Let’s Talk Turkey

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

Colleagues, we need to talk.  A major college application deadline has just come and gone, and based on what I’m hearing, I love you all madly, but things went quite badly.

1.       “She gave me drafts of her Early Action essays on Halloween. Can you believe it?”

2.        “He came into my office Friday to ask where he should apply Early Decision. The deadline was Sunday. What could I do?”

3.       “She e-mailed me Sunday morning with a new application that was due that day.  What was she thinking?”

These comments didn’t come to me as a group, but they somehow seemed to be part of the same quiz—so here are my answers.

1.       No surprise here.  Kids start things late-- their time management skills are, well, raw.  What’s surprising is that she was allowed to do this.  Unless the student is channeling Hemingway, her essays will be underdeveloped and misunderstood.  She needed more time, and you needed your Saturday.

Stop the madness, and give them an advanced deadline that will really help them.  “If you’re applying to a college with a November deadline, I need to know by October 10th.  If you’d like me to read your essays, I need those by October 15th.  This is the only way I can guarantee your transcript will be sent on time, and the only way your essays will get the care they need.  Anything I receive after these deadlines will not be sent on time.  You know that now, so plan ahead.”

2.       Early Decision application programs are designed for students who LOVE a college. So, when a student asks “What college should I apply ED to?” two days before the deadline, they’re kind of asking which person they should marry two days before the wedding.  If they aren’t feeling it, the answer is, Don’t.  If they’re asking that question two days before the deadline, the answer is, Really don’t.

In fact, if they’re asking that question two days before the deadline, the answer is, Don’t let them.

Here’s what your newsletter says. “Just a reminder that if you’re applying Early Decision, you must attend that college if you are accepted.  This kind of commitment requires a lot of thought—so much so that, you can’t apply ED without your counselor’s permission to do so.  If we don’t have a conversation at least two weeks before your ED application is due, you won’t get my permission, because I take my role seriously in this discussion.  You should too. If you forget to make this appointment, maybe the school doesn’t mean that much to you after all.”

3.       She was thinking you would respond, and you did.  When a deadline falls on a weekend or over a holiday, my e-mail is on auto-reply, telling students I’ll be available when school reopens.  I’ve given them advanced deadlines, communicated them to students and parents (and yes, teachers) regularly, and now I’m sticking to them.  If an e-mail suggests I forgot to do something that’s due, I check, fix it, and respond.  Otherwise, the student is suggesting they’re having a college counseling emergency, and those don’t exist. I’ll point that out to them when school starts.

Students from different backgrounds certainly need different levels of support, so I understand if these responses may seem a little harsh.  But college asks a lot from a student, with little advanced notice.  That’s a skill they need to hone, and your job is to help get them college-ready.  Keep that in mind in helping your students deal with deadlines.

Now—about those college apps due January 1.


  1. Amen! I follow the same school of thought and while it can be a rough transition - several years after making deadlines important (when they were less so before) - I have very few students or parents push the issue and they get things done on time.

    We are general practitioners - not the emergency room.

  2. Spot on! Part of our job is to help ready students for college and meeting deadlines is a huge part of growing up. Thank you for writing what we are all thinking and feeling.

  3. Love this! I'm a new counselor and definitely agree with what you've said here. I hope to implement these rules with my students as well.