finding serenity around the college application processMuch of college admissions is outside an applicant’s control, which is why the process can feel so stressful at times. It’s natural to want to predict how things will turn out and know that the outcomes are a direct result of our efforts.

Those who work in any college-admissions capacity know there are far too many moving parts for anyone – applicant, counselor, or even the admissions officer – to know exactly how colleges will organize their incoming class. That isn’t clear until the admissions office is in the middle of the process itself or, what’s likelier, only in hindsight.

Applicant pools and institutional goals are rapidly changing – even admissions deans themselves don’t always know what to expect – so it is futile for students to stress out over what is outside of their control.

Helping with Your College Application

A big part of my job is helping students (and parents) move away from fretting about things they cannot control and rather stay focused on what is within their control.

This is where I like to lean into a universal piece of wisdom: the Serenity Prayer, which asks for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

Focus on What You Can Control

A while back, one of my students who was interested in Sports Psychology described this same concept within the vocabulary of “Focusing on the ‘Controllables.’” In sports, an athlete might have to deal with a wide variety of adverse conditions that she cannot control. The weather, the way that the opposing team is playing, and even what has already happened that day leading up to the competition are examples of “Uncontrollables.”

My student described how sports psychologists have spent a lot of time studying how focusing on these types of factors decreases the effectiveness of an athlete’s performance, stifling the mental game of even the most talented players. Translating this wisdom back into the language of admissions will help us find additional serenity amidst what can often be a hectic application process.

What is within your control?

So what’s within a student’s control? Well, we might include academic effort, attitude, extracurricular activities, interest exploration, and time management. Students can control the work they do to find a group of best-fit colleges and the work they put into their college applications. While the grades earned in freshman year may no longer be in a rising senior’s control, the grades they earn this fall are.

A student can’t know for sure what their teacher will write in a letter of recommendation, but it’s certainly within one’s control to have a helpful discussion with their teacher about what would be useful to include in their letter. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in more advice about letters of recommendation, check out our blog.)

Create a Plan for Your College Application

The best way to stay focused on the things that matter is by creating a plan or, as we like to call it, a roadmap – plan to build your experience, tell your story, and highlight the best parts. When you have a plan, you then have clarity about what is within your control. And we know that clarity brings confidence, confidence inspires moxie, and moxie builds momentum. It’s never too early to develop a roadmap. And just remember—every single roadmap is different. If you’re interested in our help customizing one for your kids, get in touch with us.