If you’re finishing your Common App…

Seniors, if you’re finishing your Common Application to submit for January deadlines, our free Guide to the 2018/19 Common Application can help you make sure there’s nothing common about your app. From the essay prompts, to the activity listing, to the additional information section, you can use the guide for everything from an assist with that one section you’re struggling with to a line-by-line review of the application. You can get your free copy here.

Skirt this law

Parkinson’s Law states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” For students with college applications that still need to be completed over the holiday break, I recommend you skirt that law.

Time (real or perceived) in front of you can chip away at your sense of urgency for a project. Even worse, it opens the door to too many excuses that slow or outright halt your progress.

“This can wait until tomorrow.”

“I don’t have any good ideas for this essay.”

“I’ll spend today just getting organized (but not doing any of the actual work).”

As those excuses add up, the work completed does not. And eventually, you’re up against the deadlines, stressed and scrambling to complete work you only recently had seemingly enough time to complete. And your holiday break transforms into no break at all.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Imagine your dream college guaranteed you admission provided you: (1) submitted all your applications one week from today, and (2) ensured every application reflected your best effort.

What would you do for the next seven days? You’d find a way. You’d finish applications that were as good as they could possibly be, applications that made you proud, and you’d still have plenty of holiday left.

Why not do that right now?

Imagine the relief you’d feel. Imagine the peace of mind of meeting that artificial deadline, sleeping on it, and coming back the next day for one more review, one last bonus time. Imagine how much better your applications would be if you put that much focus and effort into them for the next seven days.

And best of all, imagine the relief of pushing “Submit” with time left to enjoy a chunk of your holiday break.

Work expands to fit the space allotted to complete it. Skirt that law by giving yourself less space.

Just five more…

Seniors, if you need an extra boost of motivation to get you through a college application, try Dan Pink’s “Just five more” (questions, minutes, sentences in an essay, etc.). Trust me, the advice will work much better for you than the delivery style might (I could feel my 17-year-old self rolling my eyes). A little momentum might take you a lot further than just five more.

When it’s personal

College admissions is personal. An admissions officer who’s assigned to your geographic territory, who reads your essays and letters of rec and the summary from your interviewer–they get to know the student behind the grades and test scores. To the degree you’ve shared, they know about your life, your circumstances, your challenges, and your dreams. And when the information is compelling enough to merit a recommendation for admission, they are personally invested, ready to go to the committee and plead their case (MIT describes this personal investment powerfully in this past blog entry).

So how do you think they take it if they find out you’ve misrepresented yourself in your application? UVA sums that feeling up with yesterday’s Tweet:


When they work to make it personal, they take the outcome personally. Make sure you’re on the right side of that personal investment.

A free application webinar from Collegewise

If you’ve yet to finish (or even if you’ve yet to start) your college applications, Collegewise counselors Davin Sweeney and Rahsaan Burroughs are putting their combined 25 years of experience as admissions officers to good use in the following free webinar.

Seniors, It’s Not Too Late: Submit Pitch Perfect Applications When Time’s Running Out
Thursday, November 8, 2018
5 p.m. – 6 p.m. (PST)
Click here for more information and to register.

I hope you’ll join us.

The predictable fear before submission

One of the most predictable points of anxiety during the journey to college is the time right before a student submits their application(s).

There’s a finality to that impending submission. No more revising. No more hand-wringing. No more avoiding the ensuing evaluation. Once that application leaves, it’s literally and figuratively out of your hands, with nothing left to do but wait for a decision.

This fear causes students to second-guess their decisions, like their choice of essay topic or the way they’ve presented their activities. Even worse is the hand-wringing over decisions you can no longer change. Maybe you should have taken the SAT again or chosen a different summer activity or spent more time with your chemistry tutor to get that grade up? Left unchecked, all of this doubt leads some students to hold their applications hostage, too afraid to hit the “Submit” button until the deadline leaves them no other choice.

This is normal behavior. Every one of us has experienced the worry that accompanies doing something new, something that might not work, something with risk and exposure and consequences. But that still doesn’t make the fear useful. It’s not pushing us to make better decisions. It’s not improving the final product. And it’s not changing the eventual outcome for the better.

So if the anxiety isn’t useful, what can you do about it? You can anticipate it.

Expect that you’ll worry right before you submit. Give that feeling a name, like “pre-submission panic.” And when it arrives, you’ll know exactly what it is. You won’t have to interpret it and wonder if those worries are your mind’s way of telling you that you should be doing something different or better. It’s just the physical response that comes with doing something important and potentially life-changing.

The best part is that the acute fear goes away days or even hours after you submit. There will be a sense of overwhelming relief knowing that the work is complete and you’ve done your best. Don’t rush that relief. Give applications the time and attention they deserve. But when you’ve checked and proofed and rechecked again, remind yourself that you’ve worked hard and earned the relief that’s about to ensue. Then hit “Submit.”

The fear is a lot less powerful when you predict and expect it.


One of my Collegewise colleagues who worked in admissions at a highly selective college once described an occasion where he called an applicant to clarify something about a letter of recommendation that was part of her file. The letter had mentioned the student’s work in her junior year, but according to the transcript, she’d taken that particular course her sophomore year. He didn’t suspect that anything was amiss—he just wanted to make sure they were connecting the correct course with the correct teacher.

But as soon as he got the applicant on the phone and identified himself, she hung up. He later discovered the student had written the letter herself and forged the teacher’s name.

We both had the same reaction—was it worth it?

This student was a strong applicant. She had a shot at being admitted. But clearly some combination of the pressure, her desperation to be admitted, or her general anxiety had driven her to do something so risky that it completely torpedoed her application once it was discovered. None of her other credentials mattered at that point.

This is a particularly egregious example, but it’s not at all uncommon for students to counter responsible warnings about bending (or breaking) the truth with, “But how would they ever know?”

And to that question, I always give the same reply.

Are you sure you want to risk it to find out?

Need help with your University of California app?

Just in time for the launch of the University of California application, join Collegewise counselor Nicole Pilar for the following free webinar:

Acing Your University of California App
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
6 p.m. – 7 p.m. (PDT)
Click here to register.

And don’t worry if you can’t make it on October 24th — we’ll be recording the webinar and making the video available to anyone who registers for up to two weeks after the event.

I hope you can join us.

Outright truths

College applicants, as you list your involvements and accolades on your college applications, consider this: if someone from the college were to pick up the phone and say, “Tell me more about this,” would you be excited to share more, or would you feel like you’d just been exposed?

I’ve rarely met students who outright lie on their applications. But I’ve seen lots of students list things that aren’t technically lies but aren’t quite true as presented, either.

A few examples:

Claiming you founded a non-profit (or an organization of any kind), but the group never materialized after the technical founding.

Listing “Assistant Coach: Girls’ Varsity Soccer,” but all you did was show up to 2 of the 22 practices.

Describing the one day you spent helping your parent organize files at their accounting or web design or law firm as an “internship.”

Sure, those examples aren’t presenting fabricated information. But they are intentionally misleading the reader into believing something was more than it actually was. And that’s a risky proposition in college admissions.

College interviewers ask questions. Teachers and counselors describe you in their letters of recommendation. Admissions officers occasionally reach out to counselors to clarify information. There are plenty of opportunities for cracks in the truth to show. None of this is done to try to catch you. In fact, it’s a good thing! A fair and thorough evaluation is exactly what you should want, as long as what you’ve presented is both fair and thorough.

The best college application strategy? Do better than avoiding outright lies. Stick with outright truths.