Every spring presents an opportunity to reevaluate the college search and application process to decide how to craft timelines that will best support individual students. One consistent, counterintuitive message is that students should start their college essays in the fall. This timing works for many students, but for students not in a college-going culture, or who have a lot on their plates, beginning in the fall might shortchange them of the valuable time the essay requires. Application deadlines can create focus, but a key priority is to ensure that there will be enough time for essay ideas to percolate, have an authentic voice, and be polished before it’s time to submit. For other students, too much time is unhelpful and can create stress. So, as much as an overall timeline provides guideposts to high school students in general, ultimately the college process works best when tailored to each student.
One of the most salient and positive messages about when to begin a college search and application process comes from the Berkeley Carroll School website in New York:
“The reality is this: for this process to go well, it has to correspond to adolescent development and certain fixed benchmarks along the high school trajectory. Experience clearly shows that starting too early results in a process focused on the wrong ideas: “how do I get in?” becomes more important than “what am I looking for?” because this last question cannot yet be adequately tackled, regardless of how smart, mature, or high-achieving a student might be.”
I love the clarity in this. My role as college counselor is to help keep the focus on “what am I looking for?”. Remaining student-centered may involve nudging a student to think broadly or holding the reins in a bit. Honoring the individuality of each student facilitates a successful and manageable process and is a value that is integral to my work.
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