Five ways you can still ruin your college application process

For seniors still slogging your way through college applications, there’s still a lot you can do to improve, or ruin, the remainder of your application cycle. To make the rest of the process less stressful and more successful, here are five things to avoid.

1. Wait to complete your remaining applications until you hear from your early application school(s).
November 1 has come and gone, and many applicants elected to apply to colleges that offered early decision or early application options that will return your admissions news in early December. You might be tempted to take a break, cross your fingers, and wait to hear from those schools before completing the remainder of your applications. Please don’t do it.  I’ve offered this tip before, so I’ll let my past writing do my current convincing for this year’s class. Trust me on this one.

2. Forget to celebrate your acceptances.
This is a Collegewise oldie but goodie because we see every year what a difference it can make in a family’s college admissions process. Too many families casually toss aside acceptances from schools that aren’t among their top choices, reserving their celebration for what they hope will be forthcoming offers of admission from schools at the top of their list. That just minimizes the applicant’s accomplishment, overlooks an opportunity to recognize a very real college option, and worst of all, perpetuates the idea that the only acceptable outcome is an offer of admission from a particular school. I’m not saying you have to throw a parade when your safety school admits you. But some acknowledgement, recognition, and even some in-family high-fiving can go a long way to inject some positivity and perspective into your process.

3. Obsess about forthcoming decisions.
We’ve all done it: worried and waited on pins and needles for something happening in the future. But while some applicants are able to get back to some semblance of enjoying a normal, application-free life, many others just double down on their anxiety. They spend far too much time obsessing about what’s to come instead of enjoying what’s already here. But no amount of wondering and worrying will wrestle control of a decision that is now officially out of your hands. All it will do is make the time leading up to that decision all the more riddled with anxiety. You only get to be a high school senior once. And once your college applications are behind you, it’s time to start enjoying those things again that you put on hold, like friends, family, activities, hobbies, etc.

4. Let the second-guessing commence.
Many applicants (and parents) second-guess their past college planning decisions in retrospect. They’ll regret not taking the ACT a third time, or wish they’d done more volunteer work, or lament the B- in French that they’re sure could have been raised with even more tutoring. Hindsight like this is only helpful if you can either learn from or do something about it. Otherwise, it’s just a wasted channel of worry that won’t do anything to improve your current state or your college admissions chances. Look forward, not back.

5. Allow your grades to slip.
I know, I know. You’ve heard this one before—keep your grades up or it might negatively impact your admissions chances (or change your status once you’re already admitted). But you’ve heard it before because it’s true. Few counselors or admissions officers will go on the record with a definitive statement of just how much grade slippage an applicant can get away with, and that’s because there is no hard-and-fast rule (it depends on the college and how precipitous the drop is). But this is one of those areas where you have great influence over the outcome. Don’t give colleges a reason to wonder whether or not you’re doing your part to keep up the good work.