Don’t answer to fear

It happens every year about this time. Mid-October. That’s when some previously rational parents become decidedly irrational. That’s when some previously good kids become much more difficult for counselors to advise and shepherd through the application process. It’s the time when one emotion, dormant for months or years for many families, rises up and takes hold.


Mid-October is when many families start to get scared. Deadlines are closing in. Decisions will follow. It all starts to get too real. They worry they’re missing something. They’re worried that someone’s getting an advantage they aren’t getting. They’re worried things won’t go well and that they’ll look back with regret.

It’s certainly possible to be too casual about college admissions. You’ve put in three years of hard work that must now get distilled into applications. Depending on where you’re applying, there can be a lot of work to do and details to keep track of. It’s an important time that deserves to be taken seriously.

But fear is an absolutely terrible college application assistant.

Fear makes families imagine the worst, often without any evidence to support the vision. Fear tells you that you’ve made the wrong choices, that you’re doing things wrong, and that you’re making mistakes, which just sends many kids and parents into a college admissions tailspin.

Here are a few examples of admissions behaviors that are almost always driven by fear.

  • Frantically adding colleges to the list as deadlines get close
  • Calling or emailing the admissions office repeatedly, often with the same questions
  • Shopping your essays around to anyone willing to give you feedback
  • Creating and expressing excuses for perceived weaknesses in your application
  • Holding a completed application hostage and refusing to submit it
  • Parents over-editing or flat out writing essays for their kids
  • Obsessing over things that you can’t control, like whether or not one particular college will say yes
  • Cramming information that’s not vital, current, or interesting into the “Additional Information” sections of applications
  • Taking the SAT or ACT a 4th or 5th or 6th time
  • Submitting extra letters of recommendation or other unsolicited materials
  • Attempting to leverage connections (usually with people who rarely have any real pull)
  • Channeling admissions stress into unsubstantiated anger or blame
  • Behaving in a way that treats the college admissions process like a life-and-death struggle
  • Forgetting to be thankful for your health, family, and inevitable college opportunities

Irrational fear gets a hold of all of us from time to time. But the first step towards eliminating it is to acknowledge that it’s there. Once you do that, fear loses all of its power.

Making good college admissions decisions is dependent on answering to the right people and forces. Answer to yourself and your gut instincts. Answer to your teachers and counselor. Answer to your family who loves you. And of course, answer to the colleges—they’re telling you what they want you to do as an applicant.

But don’t answer to fear. Fear doesn’t deserve your attention.