You see what you look for

Families tend to see what they look for as they move their way through a student’s college preparation process.

If you look for perceived advantages others received that somehow hurt you, you’ll find them.

If you look for experiences that left you smarter, more mature, or otherwise better prepared for college, you’ll find them.

If you look for students who were shut out of their dream colleges in spite of their high achievements, you’ll find them.

If you look for a reason to believe that you’ve got a good shot at admission to a highly selective college regardless of what your counselor says, you’ll find it.

Depending on where you attend high school (and access to information today means you can find countless examples even beyond your own school’s walls), there are likely enough students preparing for, applying to, and receiving decisions from colleges that you can find an example to support whatever it is that you decide to look for. But that still doesn’t mean that you’re seeing reality.

If a family decides they don’t want to hear that Stanford is an unrealistic college option, they’ll eventually find a narrative that supports the outcome they want to believe. But that doesn’t necessarily change the admissions reality.

The good news is that we all get to choose what we look for. And if families look for evidence that healthy, balanced, happy kids not only emerge relatively unscathed from the college admissions process, but also end up at colleges where they thrive—even if the schools were not among their top choices—you’ll find those, too. In fact, you’ll find lots of them. That’s admissions reality.

How do you know if you’re looking for the right things? Evaluate the behaviors inspired by what you’re looking for.

Does your visible pattern of experiences that helped you learn and grow leave you feeling more likely to embrace challenges, and more confident about your college future?

Does your evidence that others are benefiting in ways that you do not result in you complaining and feeling less inspired to do those things that actually make you happy?

Does your belief that a dream school really is a realistic possibility prevent you from finding other less selective schools that interest you?

If you choose healthy and beneficial behaviors first, it will be easier to find the right stories to support them.