The One Thing that Makes Finding the Right College a Little Easier

Will you be having the celebration or the heartache on the menu today?

For students who apply to multiple colleges around the country, the process inevitably means visiting many campuses, writing multiple essays, and submitting long applications. When the acceptance letters come—or the rejection notifications—it can feel like a party or like you're the only one who didn't get an invite.

Gracie, an intelligent, hard-working, altruistic college-bound senior, says it’s easy to get caught up in comparisons. After all, it makes sense to imagine oneself at a particular school—to fall in love before the proposal. Gracie, whose bright eyes and contagious warmth are second nature, was more serious when she contemplated the real feelings seniors face around college acceptance, “No two people have the same path to finding their school, so you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. A myriad of factors go into the decision, and comparing your qualifications to other people’s will only cause unhealthy competition and dismay if you don’t feel as qualified as them.” 

Sometimes it’s difficult to know how young students like Gracie become so wise, but after coaching Gracie and her twin brother who took very different paths to finding their schools, I suspect it might come from their sage parents who learned early how to raise two unique individuals who shared the same age, birthday, and home. 

Gracie’s college journey started long before her applications, with the discovery of her guiding passion, and it’s the one thing I’ve noticed helps students who receive a menu of acceptances choose where they want to spend the next four years of their lives. Gracie found a love for environmental science halfway through high school and spent subsequent summers at camps and pre-college programs across the country, working with teens and experts to problem solve environmental hazards or to strategize how to use rain gardens to repurpose water usage. 

These experiences meant she mostly examined schools that offered programs to foster and advance her in this field. So when she received acceptances and scholarships to universities like Villanova, Marquette, Santa Clara, Boston College, and Oregon State, she wasn’t just comparing love stories and dollars (some offers as high as 27K a year) but specific environmental science programs. In fact, she chose Boston College after weighing many factors including Boston’s unique approach to core classes and their competitive environmental studies program, which offers research opportunities and internship connections to undergraduates. 

Gracie is no stranger to hard work or extremes, after spending much of her high school nannying for six children, whose lessons became the subject of her college application essay “Six Pairs of Shoes.” Perhaps in this one significant way she and her twin are similar, as her brother Dyer wrote his essay about training and summiting Nevado Pisco in South America—a feat that took more than weeks of training but a measure of ambition and a whole lot of grit. Gracie adds that her babysitting experiences, her involvement in National Charity League, other volunteering, and her passion for environmental science weren’t just items on her academic resume but subjects she could draw wisdom from as she wrote her many application essays. 

Gracie says that writing her applications in summer meant she not only started her final year with the ability to focus on academics and having a social life but also with another surprising advantage. From our work together, Gracie notes, “I learned how important writing down a draft in the beginning is for me, and then allowing the ideas to ruminate before I go back and edit. I’ve used this process on all of my essays senior year.” 

When I asked Gracie, if there’s anything she would change about how she approached her applications, she returned to the subject of unhealthy comparisons. “I would worry less about finding the precise diction on a first draft. I was so worried about getting my ideas across perfectly on the first try that I got distracted from my main point.” Some people can go their whole lives without the understanding that initially writing poorly frees you to create a masterpiece. And it makes sense to get stuck here because after all it’s counter intuitive to believe that a messy start can lead to writing magic, yet Gracie made the leap (or maybe took the trust fall) in just a few months and benefited not just in the application essays but in all the writing projects that have since followed. 

It’s Gracie’s ability to form quick insights like these that remind me how lucky we are to have her mind set and her life moving in the direction of solving some of the world’s biggest problems. Not everyone knows their career path before college and much of the university experience is about finding your own way, but in this instance I’m certainly glad Gracie has traveled a little distance already and is willing to walk a few feet more.

You can read Gracie's college application essay, along with other great examples in Heroic Tales from College-Bound Seniors

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