The Power of Positivity in College Admissions
“The process is now out of my hands. I’m not going to bother checking in.”
“My son is so lazy and stubborn. You’re going to have to work around that.”
“Why even bother reaching out to colleges? Some of them don’t even track interest.”
These are some of the statements I hear on an annual, if not regular, basis. With everything from anxiety to ego-bashing, the college admissions process can bring out the worst feelings in students.
But if there’s one thing you can do to get the most out of this process as a family, it is to stay unwaveringly positive.
“Why is that?” you might ask.
The answer boils down to two things. Positivity will keep you sane and it will get you, the student, noticed. Positivity allows students to project a strong image from the beginning to the end of the college admissions process. And whether or not you like it, students have to constantly market themselves until they hear back from every school.
Think of the classic Pepsi or Coca Cola commercials. No one ever holds a can of soda, bemoaning the fact that it will rot their teeth, increase their chances for diabetes, and make them gain weight. Instead, there’s always music, parties, and sports, and everyone is having the time of their lives. Despite the health risks, people still “admit” soda into their homes, ignoring its flaws, because – let’s face it – their marketers are doing a great job!
The college admissions process is, in many ways, quite similar. While you can’t hide substandard grades or test scores, you can get colleges to look at a student’s other great qualities and understand how much he wants to be on their campus. That is why, from the moment a student decides to apply to a college to the moment he accepts its offer, it is everyone’s role to promote the student.
So how can parents help?
First, positivity needs to start in the home. Mom or Dad, please consider writing a letter to your child listing 10 things that you think he does well, and then give it to him. You may wonder why this is important. Well, quite simply put, the college application process is exhausting and, at times, self-esteem battering. Your child needs to hear from you, the person who loves him the most, why he is wonderful. Your opinion matters more than you realize, so use that knowledge to provide unwavering support to your child.
Second, if and when you’re asked to complete a Counselor Form, be unapologetically positive about your child. Counselors often lift quotes out of those forms to put into their own letters of recommendation that they send to colleges. This as your opportunity to tell all of those colleges why they should admit your child. Even though you can see both his strengths and his weaknesses, everything should be framed as if it were an asset. For example, instead of saying, “My son is hard-headed,” say, “My son is determined.” Or, instead of writing, “My daughter is really introverted and quiet,” write, “My daughter is a very thoughtful individual, who knows how to listen.” Strong words of support from you could make or break your child’s counselor letter.
Now that you, parents, have your job – students, what can you do to help yourselves?
First, learn to share all of the wonderful things you have done in your applications and in your conversations with admissions personnel. You may feel like you’re bragging, but you’re not. You’re making sure you stand out. In all of your interactions with college admissions offices, your mantra needs to be, “If I don’t tell them, they won’t know.” By keeping that in mind, you’ll make sure that you look like a winner and that you’re giving yourself the best chances of getting in.
Second, remember that colleges are tracking you online. Don’t believe me – Google it! As such, you need to audit your social media accounts and websites now, and keep them clean until you enroll. There should be no language, pictures or videos involving you in activities that would make your grandmother blush, or else you risk embarrassing yourself out of several college acceptances.
Third, once you start the process, don’t stop until you get accepted. Many students choose to check out the moment they send their last application, but that is not what’s going to get you into many schools. Besides fretting endlessly over when you’ll hear back, spend the winter months of senior year continuing to achieve and then letting colleges know about it. Did you finally get all A’s? Great – contact the admissions office. Did you finally get that internship you’ve been gunning for? Perfect – write them and let them know. The more you show that you are continuing to accomplish great things, especially when no one’s expecting you to, the more likely colleges are going to admit you.
Fourth, in your interviews and essays, be positive about everyone and everything. The last thing you want to do is disparage someone else to complain about a low grade or to make yourself look good – you will not get your desired outcome. Instead, focus on your own intrinsic strengths. After all, when colleges are listening to you, they really only want to learn only about you. Similarly, if you decide to write an essay about failure, which is one of the Common Application’s essay prompts, make sure that that failure turns into a win or an unexpected opportunity. Colleges are more interested in what you learned from such an experience and how you rebound, in general, from disappointment, rather than about a low point in your life.
By keeping all of these points in mind, not only will you give yourself the best chances of admission, you may just create for yourself a very happy outcome.