By Adela Penagos, PhD, President
I have spent a great deal of my summer advising high school and graduate students, former students of mine, and friends on their decision making. While I enjoy helping others think of the impact a given choice could have in their lives, both short and possibly long term, I have been struck by how difficult it seems to trust oneself and ultimately life (or a higher power) with the notion that things will work out. Thus, I cannot help but wonder, is it so difficult to decide because there are too many options in front of us? Are people too afraid? Or is it simply that all of us have turned into control freaks? Because, for the most part, many of us are going to be presented with alternatives in everyday life, one of the biggest skills we can pass on to future generations is the ability to make decisions.
As rising seniors engage in their quest to be accepted to universities and/or colleges, I would like to offer some tips to help out with decision making in order to develop skills I would refer to as “decision capital.”
1. How do you select the best general essay prompt?
Many seniors struggle with finding their voice in the general essay. Partly, it is because they have been trained to write their opinion about everyone else’s writings. Furthermore, they tend to feel comfortable with one story that has defined them, but forget about how much they have grown and transformed since they entered high school. I would encourage you to pick at least three of the prompts you can identify with deeply, discuss them with your school’s guidance counselor or an expert in college admissions, and after weighing the pros and cons, decide which one will help you stand out. You have to present your leading role in this piece of writing. Do not fret, the work you do for the other two prompts that you do not select as the winner can be used in the narrative of the supplemental essays.
2. How do you build your college list?
The strongest college list has diversity in terms of school’s selectivity and connectivity in terms of your academic, social, and other interests. I have seen college lists that make me wonder how the colleges on the list could potentially be the best fit for the same student. The key to the best college list discernment is to work with someone who can help you figure out how your core values and strengths relate to the schools you are applying to; how the academics align with your own academic interests; and how you will fit in the social and residential life of the institution. It is also wise not only to apply to the most highly selective schools. Thus, divide your list in various categories (i.e. reach, possible, and likely). Do not forget to be open to explore test optional schools and various geographic locations to determine if these alternatives could be a good a match for you. Only apply to schools where you could see yourself spending the next four years of your life
3. How do you decide if Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) is right option for you?
You should only apply ED or EA if at the time you submit your application you are submitting the strongest possible application and in the case of ED, you would be ready to commit to a given college or university, without finding out the admission decisions of your other applications. Please note that some colleges or universities tend to accept only the top applicants during their ED process (generally the top 3% of the applicant pool). EA sometimes simply allows you to find out earlier if you have been accepted and this can give you a sense of relief in a process that can be daunting. Nonetheless, some schools have restrictive EA, which means you cannot apply anywhere ED. Therefore, if you opt to apply for ED and EA, research all the fine print regarding the policies you are signing off to make sure you make the most informed decision for your particular choice and have no regrets later.
Making decisions about all of these aspects of the college application can seem overwhelming at this point of the process. Nevertheless, the more you flex your decision making muscle the more you will develop “decision capital.” This will be very handy on May 1st when you have to make your final decision and as you move forward throughout college. Your decision making skill will help you to decide on your course schedule wisely; what internship, grants, study abroad, or service opportunities you will partake during your time in college; and ultimately the path you choose to pursue after graduation.