NAVIGATING THE COLLEGE PROCESS

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July 7, 2016
By Erin Croddick Avery

Chelsea’s passions were fine art, fashion and European history. A stellar standardized test taker and classical pianist, she wanted to pursue a career in fashion but found her college options less cerebral than she desired. It was time to synergize.

At his competitive high school, Charles was cut from the athletic team tryouts and struggled to redefine himself and create a meaningful identity and extracurricular legacy. He had always been a competitive athlete…now what was he going to do? Pivot.

Kelly suffers from anxiety disorder. A competitive swimmer, she desired to study at an elite Southern university but struggled to differentiate herself from a “sea of sameness,” the myriad suburban female Caucasian scholar athletes just below collegiate recruiting caliber. Kelly chose to centerherself.

These three applicants have numerous lessons to teach about navigating the college process with grit and grace, but right now, we will focus on the pivoting, synergizing and centering.

Of the nearly 4,000 colleges in this country, the greatest challenge for most families is narrowing the list while not wasting valuable time visiting colleges that do not constitute a good match for the prospective student.

Chelsea’s plan involved a synergy of her passions: a study abroad program for her summer before senior year where she studied at a French university and designed a stylish line of hoody sweatshirts that integrated her passion for medieval art and history. Cornell University’s Fiber Science program in the School of Human Ecology was an ideal match for Chelsea’s passion for fashion paired with a university that matched her intellectual capabilities. She visited, applied Early Decision as this was indeed her top choice, and was happily admitted.

Charles reached a crossroads. He had been the valedictorian of his grammar school. We developed a plan stemming from an authentic self-appraisal process. He applied himself to rise to the top of his competitive high school class. He took math in the summer to accelerate his coursework. He dove into chess club and community service with his favorite constituency groups. For some teens, it is the elderly, or animals, special needs children or the poor and disenfranchised in their own zip code. Instead of doubling down on sports training, Charles envisioned a different path for himself, one that would define him as a high achieving humanitarian. He spent summers discerning possible career paths and researching unique college programmatic offerings. He chose an array of colleges and universities with a mission and values that mirror his own. His outcomes reflect a successful attribute that some teens must inevitably broach: the identity pivot.

Kelly embarked on a similar identity quest. Her parents’ divorce during her high school years was very disruptive to her and she sought to keep her focus on college readiness. Kelly, like many students, experienced fear of the unknown, fear of failure, insecurity and feelings of being overwhelmed. Early Decision would statistically increase her chances at her first choice school while putting her at ease for the remainder of her senior year, should she be admitted.

We worked on practicing mindfulness and remaining centered, and with stellar essays with painstaking brainstorming sessions and editing, extensive mock interviews and feedback, assiduous research on the college of her choice, Kelly reached her goal! Her text said it all: “I have been accepted. But more importantly, I have accepted myself.”

As you can see, the college process is not a “one size fits all.” Anyone with multiple children can attest to this. These three clients, whose names and stories have been altered slightly to maintain their anonymity, have all achieved success by focusing not on “drool schools” but on themselves and their own gifts, strengths, obstacles and abilities first and foremost.

It is also important to note that anything worthwhile in life requires the carving out of deliberate time to work a process. Young people are wet cement; they are malleable and they need permission to change their minds as they grow more deeply in their self-understanding.

As adults in their lives, we can help dissipate the pressure on teens by affirming them for their character, i.e., what kind of sibling, what kind of child, what kind of friend, teammate and citizen they are instead of constantly peppering them about college-related questions. As a consultant who has worked with teens and young adults for the past 15 years, I can corroborate that teens are preoccupied with what they do, rather than for whom they are, because we are praising them for their outward accomplishments inordinately more than for what they do when no one is watching.

So now that school is out, create a strategic plan for college visits, meaningful summer experiences, career exposure, test prep and test planning. You may think high school is moving as slowly as a cement roller in 9thgrade, until you get run over in 11th. So plan some enjoyable college visits this summer and early fall!

Erin Croddick Avery, D.Min., is a certified educational planer and founder of Avery Educational Resources, LLC., Fair Haven, an independent educational consulting practice that specializes in counseling students and their families throughout the college and boarding school search and application process. 

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