Are We Already Late to the Application Party?

Question: In the supermarket the other night, I ran into two parents of students in my daughter’s senior class at our local public high school. The first told me that his daughter has honed in on her top-choice colleges and is busy completing applications. The second one said that her son has submitted all of his applications and has already been admitted to two universities. These conversations made me very nervous. My daughter has not finalized her college list. She’d planned to apply Early Action to two colleges this week but then felt stressed and not at all ready. Other than filling out her name and some basic information on the Common Application, she’s done nothing. (Her English teacher is working on college essays with the class, so hopefully she’ll have a final draft of at least one essay soon.) I told her that she can catch her breath and apply Regular Decision. But on the way home from the market, I began to panic, thinking that we’re far behind the curve. Are we?

From the first time a baby rolls over (or doesn’t), parents can’t help but compare notes with other parents and may sometimes wonder if their own child lags behind. The college process is much like rolling over … or like walking, talking, and cutting teeth … only more stressful. Kids are not all on the same schedule but, unfortunately, this time there aredeadlines. So as long as your daughter meets them, she’s doing fine. But what can you do to ease the angst (at least a bit) and squelch your fear that your daughter is late to the application party? Here are a few tips:

– Set up some “faux deadlines” in order to avoid last-minute all-nighters and the terror caused by tech snafus when the clock ticks toward midnight (while the computer screen freezes) on the real deadline day. In other words, you might want to work with your daughter to establish dates by which each of her applications must be finished … a week or more in advance of the actual deadline. Even if her college list is still a work in progress, she can concentrate on applying to whatever schools are on it now.

-Suggest that you (or another adult) will proof each application before submission. “The Dean” receives dozens of letters at this time of year from worried teenagers who only spotted typos and other more egregious errors AFTER they’d hit the “Send” button. It’s hard to edit one’s own work … few know this better than “The Dean!” (Hint: If the adult reader is a family friend or other non-relative, your daughter may be more likely to respect the faux deadlines than if the reader is you. On the other hand, if you are concerned that bringing in an outsider—and an early deadline–will just turn up the heat in the pressure cooker, don’t do it.)

-Help your daughter comb through her mail (both email and snail mail) to look for colleges that are courting her with free and easy applications. If one of these “snap apps” comes from a school that you think might be a reasonable fit for your daughter, even if not a dream-come-true, encourage your daughter to apply. Submitting even this single application might help to take some of the anxiety out of completing the others. Similarly, instead of focusing on an entire roster of target colleges, hone in instead on just one college that your daughter seems interested in and encourage her to get that application out of the way. (I recommend starting with a “Safe” school, although some students will prefer to begin with a “Reach” application, which is fine too. Other kids may want to start with the easiest app … perhaps one with a cinchy supplement with no essays. I’m a big fan of that plan as well.)

-You or your daughter can also ask her school counselor to recommend colleges that offer Rolling Admissions and are known for speedy turnaround time, if you think that your daughter would benefit from having one verdict under her belt before most of her other applications are even due.

Many teenagers are very busy and have little time to write college essays and fill out forms when homework and extracurricular commitments loom. But if you feel that your daughter is suffering from more than just an overcrowded agenda, garden-variety procrastination, or some normal concerns about taking a big step beyond what is safe and familiar, there is a lot of advice elsewhere on College Confidential about how to address this. These recommendations range from exploring a gap year to creating a very short, manageable college list to considering other types of post-secondary education, work experiences, etc.

Above all, try not to be rattled each time you get a report from the grapevine about yet another finished application or thick envelope in a mail slot. Depending on where your daughter is applying, there’s still plenty of time left or even a ton of time (some colleges accept applications right through the summer), and there are probably a couple school vacations (when your daughter can put her nose to the grindstone) between now and the deadlines . But, in the meantime, you might want to consider eating a lot of take-out dinners and avoiding the supermarket. 😉