Admissions Repercussions of Senior Year Move

Question: My daughter, a junior in high school, holds leadership roles in more than 4 clubs at her current school, but we may have to move to another state, how much will that affect her college application?

Switching high schools (and home states) in senior year can be tough on many teenagers who never quite make peace with the decision, although there are definitely those out there who welcome a change … even if their delight is far from immediate. So how your daughter fares overall will depend a lot on which of these camps she falls in. She may find it exciting to explore new surroundings, to make new friends, and to test-drive opportunities she doesn't have where she's living now … or she may spend the year ahead glued to Facebook and Snapchat. But, from a college-admission perspective, there can actually be more pros than cons, especially if your daughter takes advantage of the move, however traumatic it may initially seem.

When it's time to apply to college, your daughter can report the leadership positions she relinquished when she had to move (using the “Additional Information" section of her applications or an extra unsolicited essay or possibly her primary essay). However, if she is aiming for the Ivies and other uber-selective institutions, then leadership roles in school clubs are typically considered a worthwhile use of time but are otherwise viewed as ho-hum. The most sought-after colleges are overrun with Key Club presidents, Debate Society secretaries, and Model UN treasurers. So holding positions such as those won't really move the needle at the hyper-competitive places. And, thus, giving them up won't either.

At other selective but not impossible-dream schools, admission committees will be understanding of your daughter's circumstances and will give her some “credit" for the elections she won, even if she was never able to carry out her leadership duties.

The silver lining to this situation is that, by finding herself on unfamiliar turf next fall and without the to-do list that her club responsibilities would have required at her former school, your daughter may be able to indulge in new interests or spend more time on older, neglected ones. And these activities could actually stand out more on college applications than the usual-suspect school clubs would have done.

For instance, you daughter may enjoy having extra hours to pursue individual undertakings (photography, painting, cooking, hiking … ) or she might even turn the stress of her 12th-grade relocation into an extracurricular “activity" by creating a guidebook, blog, screenplay, short story, etc. aimed at other students who end up in similar straits. She could get an after-school job (admission folks seem to love to see applicants scooping sundaes and flipping burgers!). If your move means strikingly different surroundings (from urban to rural or vice versa), your daughter could write an amusing college essay about being a newbie in 4-H, making her first-ever eye-contact with a rooster, or about getting so lost on the subway that she actually crossed state lines!

Starting a new school as a senior will definitely mean that your daughter loses … well … seniority. She won't run the clubs and she may even get opted out of her top-choice classes. She will probably have to rely on teachers from her previous school for recommendations and she won't be able to count on her new guidance counselor to understand her needs … or to write a glowing recommendation. But it will also give her a chance to reinvent herself, which she may find intriguing and which could ultimately even help her to stand in the crowd at admissions-verdict time. So she should definitely explain her circumstances to admission officers in essays, interviews, supplemental letters … whatever it takes. But she should endeavor to put a positive spin on her experience as she also addresses the challenges. If she is able to show that she has embraced the move and learned from it, despite the inevitable drawbacks, it's likely that admission officials will appreciate her positive attitude and will recognize that, having survived such a big change already, she is more likely to make a seamless adjustment to college than some of her classmates will.