The Sentiment

Take a Deep Breath: The College Application Dance

You know where you want to go to college. If you’re asking yourself, “now what?” This is the article for you. If you are looking for a detailed step-by-step, then this article is not for you. My goal is to get you in the right mindset while completing the step-by-step. Also, the advice below is custom tailored to liberal arts institutions. Which, of course, you should already be considering anyhow…

This whole endeavor was prompted by a good friend of mine who recently emailed me for advice about the college application process—emphasis on the word process. I’m not going to lie: it’s an incredible chore. But don’t be discouraged! It can be incredibly rewarding and educational. The ‘wisdom’ that I am about to impart upon you *coughs* is the very thing I wish someone would have told me when beginning the daze known as my senior year. I will pass along my knowledge to you, anonymous reader, so that perhaps your senior year won’t be a daze for the same reason mine was, or perhaps not even a daze at all…

The key here is to turn that chore into more of a dance: smooth and graceful as you float across the ballroom floor. And what of your dance partner, you ask? Well, I’m glad you did. In this situation, it takes at least two to tango. Your parents are a godsend during this process: honor them, cherish them, respect them, laugh with them, cry with them. While they may not know all the fancy new ways to tango, they’ve got the basic steps down. Also, high school counseling has changed a lot since even my freshman year and certainly since your parents crossed the stage in one of those stuffy robes of [insert school colors here and here]. Counselors are better equipped now than ever to guide you through the application process. Get to know yours. He or she will come in handy. Unlike your parents, counselors are probably much more experienced at even the latest and greatest steps in the college application tango.

Like dancing, the college application process involves a lot of courting. Seriously, it does. More on that later.

*Cue record skipping sound FX* Okay, I know you what you’re thinking: drop the dancing metaphor, Jacob. Fair enough—I have a social dance class tomorrow and I’ve been listening to Louis Armstrong all afternoon; I couldn’t help it.

*Cue dream sequence harp* It’s September 2008 and I am a senior at Linn-Mar High School. By this time I had a fairly good idea of where I wanted to receive my tertiary education. Alright fine, just in case my parents are reading this: I had somewhat of an idea where I wanted to go to school… Hillsdale was my top choice, and considering I am writing this from my campus apartment, it’s safe to say I got my top pick. But how did I do it?

Over the course of the next several months, I began the rather agonizing process of gathering applications, letters of recommendation, officials transcripts, unofficial transcripts, ACT scores, résumés, etc…not to mention all of those pesky little application essays. It can be a lot to swallow at once. The proper mindset is crucial to relieve stress and write effective applications.

Now, back to the future!

The extraordinarily crucial element of the ideal application mindset is one that seems oh so obvious on paper, but often times is overlooked. Once I began to understand this, everything else fell into place. Coincidentally, the interrogative that best summarizes the extraordinarily crucial element of the ideal application mindset is exactly the same one of our general mindset: why. In this specific instance, that is, why are these colleges making me do all this seemingly bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo just so you can pay them to do something that you might not even enjoy at the present? Surely it cannot be because they are mean-spirited. Well, the aren’t and it isn’t.

They probably really do want you at their institution of higher learning. They just don’t know it yet. That’s where you come in. Courtship.

You are already interested in the place. If you are truly interested in it for the right reasons, then definitionally you should be a great fit for the place. So, what’s left? Convincing them of that.

Think from the college’s perspective: for the purposes of admissions, they are looking for people who are going places…people who will one day elevate the status and atmosphere of the college even higher than it already is. They are looking for people who will be role models and mentors on campus. They are looking for leaders. They are looking for people of good character. They are hedging on your future, and potential future positions in government, business, culture, academia, and/or community.

The only reason they use records from your past and present is to better predict your future. You are an investment. And they are prudent investors. Once you’re there, they have a vested interest in your success.

Think of it this way: imagine that your application is a canvas and you are Normal Rockwell. Paint yourself. Paint yourself at the liberal arts college of your choosing. Now give that painting to the admissions office. Demonstrate to them that you are going somewhere, that you are a good investment, and it will be smooth sailing. That demonstration, however, will take much work and creativity. You ought to start. Yesterday.

In the meantime, if you haven’t done so already, turn to your parents and counselor and repeat the following, “care to dance?”