Rethinking the End Game

As high school students get closer and closer to applying to college, every move begins to feel like it’s connected to the admission process in some way.  While a freshman may join the chess club to get free pizza, a junior is more likely to ask, “Will this look good on my college resume?” While a sophomore might pick up a novel to read for pleasure this weekend, a senior is more likely to pick up a test prep book to brush up for that final go at the ACT.  Once the Common App goes live, this tunnel vision can tighten even further. So much time and energy are spent preparing, editing, and sending applications, and many students become fixated on a single outcome: where they will be accepted.


While the most obvious and logical goal of applying to college is being accepted to college, I would argue that it should not be your only goal. During the years I worked in a high school, I was amazed by the exponential emotional and social growth I saw in the senior class. Much of this development, I would argue, is supported (if not instigated) by the college process.  My colleague Samantha Schreiber, Associate Director of College Counseling & Academic Planning at Milken Community Schools, and I sat down to discuss the ways that seniors grow (whether or not they are aware of it)! In her role as a college counselor, she not only has a “front row seat” but is able to actively encourage and support students as they grow in their maturity and self-knowledge. Our hope is that, by acknowledging these opportunities for development, those who are involved in the college application process (be they student, parent, counselor, or anyone else) can come to appreciate a broader view of what success is and how applicants can gain more from this process than just a place to spend the next four years. Here’s some of what Samantha and I have observed:

Requesting information and recommendations is not only about strengthening your application, it also…

  • Helps you learn to effectively communicate with adults
  • Shows you how to navigate deadlines, websites, etc.
  • Affords you the opportunity to consider the source of that information and how that might bias or influence it
  • Teaches selfadvocacy


Forming your college list is not only about strategizing, it also…

  • Encourages you to be open minded (while also tuning out the “noise”)
  • Gives you practice researching opportunities and asking important questions
  • Guides you toward seeking advice from the people whose opinions matter (and who know what they’re talking about)
  • Moves you to define what you want for the next four years and beyond
  • Provides opportunities to talk with your parents or guardians about your goals and aspirations


Taking on extracurricular activities is not only about having a good resume, it also…

  • Introduces you to people you can learn from as well as teach
  • Can inspire new passions
  • Helps you develop new skills and abilities


Taking standardized tests is not only about chasing the perfect score, it also…

  • Allows you to understand your academic strengths within the national context
  • Provides the opportunity to focus on improving in particular, measurable ways
  • Teaches you a lot about time management


Writing your college essays is not only about standing out, it also…

  • Allows you to define what’s important to you
  • Teaches you to accept and utilize constructive feedback
  • Encourages you to reflect on your experiences, beliefs, and goals
  • Gives you practice writing about yourself and your accomplishments (which will come in handy when you apply for jobs and internships)


Submitting applications is not only about applying to college, it also…

  • Forces you to be organized and responsible
  • Reminds you that some things are just out of your hands and sometimes you have to let it go
  • Requires you learn to prioritize
  • Inspires you to take ownership of your experiences and actions


Applying for financial aid and scholarships is not only about funding your degree, it also…

  • Introduces you to the world of personal finance
  • Encourages you to ask questions about worth and return on investment
  • Provides opportunities to have mature conversations about spending and finances with your parents or guardians.


Receiving admission decisions is not only about where you might attend, it also…

  • Is an opportunity to weight the pros and cons and make a life-changing decision for yourself
  • Encourages you to handle success with humility and grace
  • Helps you focus on the wins rather than the losses
  • Teaches you to cope with disappointment and to comfort others who have been disappointed


We’ve got a long process ahead of us, but even when you’re elbow deep in supplemental essays, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  The sages (and the Instagrammers) are right–nothing worth doing is ever easy–but if you open yourself to all of the opportunities you have to learn and grow, you will have a successful process that results in more than just admission to college.