A Few Months of Hard Work for Four Years of Awesome: Keeping the College Application Process in Perspective

At our last monthly tutor meeting, we spent some time brainstorming ways to inspire kids who have become stressed out, burned out, or outright fed up with the college application process. And let’s face it – that’s most high school juniors and seniors. The process is invasive – the Common App asks every question short of a toothpaste brand preference – and it’s demoralizing. With acceptance rates for some schools in the low single digits, it’s easy for kids to feel as though nothing short of a moon landing or cure for cancer will be enough to set them apart.

At the meeting, we talked about all of the things that generate stress for college applicants: score goals, GPA concerns, and daunting statistics, to name a few. Collectively, after several minutes of agonizing over our poor, stressed-out juniors and seniors, we decided that the biggest stressor of all is that students lose sight of the end goal. They know that they want to get into college – sometimes it seems their college goals are all anyone can talk about – but oftentimes, they forget that they also want to go to college. Students seem to know everything about their dream schools: they can recite acceptance rates, mean SAT scores, demographic breakdowns, and interview requirements at the drop of a hat. But do they know what to expect when they get there?

One of our tutors mentioned a strategy she uses to inspire her students to get through test prep – and it’s a mantra I’ve been sharing with my students since. She tells them, “It’s a few months of suck for four years of awesome.” While we as tutors don’t ever like to feel as though our sessions represent “a few months of suck,” it’s important to acknowledge the unpleasantness of standardized testing. We try hard to set goals and establish reward systems – we tell our students that if they work hard, they will get the scores they want. Do this, get this. Easy, right? Until I heard this other tutor speak, though, I had lost sight of the reward my students really want to hear about. Work hard, do well, get into college. That’s a bit better – most students would prefer an acceptance letter to a score report, right? Almost. I started to realize that what students actually need to hear is this:

  1. Work hard
  2. Score highly on your test
  3. Get into college
  4. Love it
  5. Reach the point where the college application process becomes nothing more than a distant, dully painful memory. (It exists! Really!)

Suddenly, the goals are different. My mantra became: do this, get all this. And I think my students walked into their June ACT inspired by the notion that the bubbles they’re filling in mean something much bigger (and much less scary) than they originally thought.

Many schools publish student blogs as part of their Admissions pages. These can be great resources for prospective applicants to get a sense of what they’re working towards. I’ve included links to three below:

Three different schools, in three very different parts of the country. Dozens of students sharing their experiences. But I found a common thread! Sometimes as little as one year out from what our students are going through, not one student blogger thought to mention the SAT.

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