Did you create the problem you need help to solve?

Years ago, I contracted a bookkeeper from a local accounting firm whose email auto signature read, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Setting aside the fact that it felt a little passive aggressive and unnecessary to send that message to literally every person she emailed, the point still has merit. Unless we’re talking about emergency responders, it’s asking a lot of someone to meet our urgency to solve our problem they did nothing to create.

I see this often in the college admissions process. A student falls behind in a class, so a parent emails the teacher with an urgent request to meet ASAP. A student brings a request for a letter of recommendation to a counselor and tells her it must be done quickly to meet the deadline less than a week away. And I saw it play out yesterday in a college’s Twitter feed where a student asked a question about the need to change something in her already submitted application, then followed up over the next 90 minutes with increasing urgency before announcing that she was emailing the dean of admissions until she received a response. I’m sure her intentions are good and that the stress is just getting to her. But it wasn’t a good strategy to demand immediate action for something she overlooked and then impatiently escalate it up the chain of admissions command.

Yes, there are many people whose job it is to help you during the college admissions process. Teachers, counselors, even admissions officers—some degree of availability and support comes with the job description. They don’t sign up for those gigs without accepting that responsibility.

But it’s important to acknowledge when the help you need is a result of a problem you created. The teacher didn’t force you to fall behind in class. The counselor didn’t mandate that you wait to give her the materials until the last minute. And the college didn’t decide that you needed to amend your submitted application right this second.

When the help you need is in response to a problem you created, start by acknowledging that fact.

I made a mistake. I should have done this differently. Is there any way you can help me fix this? I promise I won’t have to ask you again.

Taking responsibility for the problem makes it more likely you’ll get the help you need to fix it.