I recently spoke to the junior class of a public STEM high school about the college search and application process (Hi, IMSA!). I accept speaking engagements or panels like these whenever I can; I love the opportunity to pull back the curtain on college admission.
There’s a symmetry about imparting college search wisdom or application advice at this time of year. While I’m at the end of something as we close the books on the Class of 2021, high school juniors and perhaps some sophomores out there are at (or at least near) the beginning. You are embarking on a journey, or perhaps we’ll call it a quest- that has a certain delightful bravado to it, to find the college or university where you will learn and grow and change and contribute. It’s an exciting time, and I’m going to take advantage of this slower time in my world to help you chart a course in yours: over the late spring and summer, I will write a blog series of advice from the Dean seat. I’m pumped.
I want to begin by challenging something I’ve heard a lot over the years: many students, parents, and high school counselors talk about “surviving the college process” or strategies for “getting through the college process”. I get it, but this makes me so very sad. I believe that the process of finding an academic and social home should not be something to be survived. I believe the reflection needed to write applications to college should not be something to be survived. If the college search and admission process is something to be survived, then we’re all doing it wrong (and as a member of the college admission machine, I take a bit of responsibility).
If the process of looking for and applying to college is something to “get through”- it is a missed opportunity. Might it be hard sometimes, confusing sometimes, frustrating sometimes? Yes! Is it easy to get sucked in by rankings and social media and hype? Indeed. But it should also be fun and exciting and enriching.
For students it should also be a reflective process of self-discovery, and for parents and families it should be quality time spent getting to know this budding young adult you’ve raised. We talk about mindset at Olin (for example: here or here or here). The college search and admission process is a lot about mindset: if you approach it as a means of reflection and as a collection of meaningful experiences and look for the opportunities to learn, you’re going to be just fine.
So breathe, take your time and go find your academic and social home.
Up next: Know Before You List: A Dean's College Search Memoir