While You’re Waiting …

… for that “fat” envelope or email.

For college-bound seniors, these are the long months — from New Year’s Day until later March. You worked extremely hard last fall and early winter creating your college applications. maybe you started even sooner than that, over the summer, writing your Common Application essay and supplemental statements. It’s been a long, sometimes stressful haul.

Now, you wait, a bit like NASA scientists and engineers who have sent a probe to a far-away planet. Your launch looked good. Nothing exploded on liftoff. Now you’re biding time until your “payload” sends back its information.

Instead of pictures and radio signals, your payload commands your application, and the response you get will be one of several. You can be accepted. That’s the feedback you want. When that news arrives, you’ll hear cheering at Mission Control. Your probe has landed, unfolded its solar panels, powered up, and has made the connection between you and Planet College. Congratulations!

On the other hand, if your payload did have a successful landing, but its systems somehow failed to power up. You’ve been denied, or “rejected,” as is more commonly expressed. This is initially a crushing blow, sometimes not all that unexpected, but sometimes good things grow from disappointment.

stress meter

There’s a third possible outcome. Your payload has made a safe landing and has established power and contact, but it may or may not be able to send back the data you want. You’ve been waitlisted. This situation can result in either a celebratory Mission Control or major disappointment among the troops. Your long wait that began at New Year’s (or in November from your ED/EA deferral) will now have to be a bit longer.

Sorry for the rocket metaphor, but that’s how the college application/admission process can go. To paraphrase a popular Christmas song, though, may all your payloads be powered up!

The point of my post today is to give you some ideas about what to do now, in this time while you’re waiting for The Big Result. This may help the time pass quicker.

Many, maybe even most, colleges require a so-called mid-year report for Regular Decision (RD) and (non-denied) ED/EA applicants. These are to be sent from your counselor and will include your latest grades and any updated test scores. Depending on what your college(s) require for this report, you may have the chance to add some comments of your own to enhance the effect of the information it contains.

Mid-year reports usually go out in February, so, since this is mid-January, you have some time to consider your options before this information goes in. The thing to keep in mind about mid-year reports is that, beyond the quantified data (grades, test scores, etc.), this is a marketing opportunity for you to enhance your overall profile.

During the coming weeks, extend and augment activities or projects that you have currently underway. Obviously, it’s too late to start a completely new initiative. That would probably look like you were pandering to your college(s). So, take a survey of what you are currently involved in and make an effort to emphasize one or more of them prior to mid-term report time.

For example, keeping with my NASA metaphor, let’s say that you are a member of your school’s Rocket Club. You may have been active in this from early on, maybe even as far back as middle school, or your freshman year. You probably have some experimental projects happening on which you can report. How do you “advertise” (a.k.a. market) your latest accomplishments?

don draper happiness

Depending on your mid-year report form’s available space to make entries on behalf of yourself, you might write something like, “I have been working hard on perfecting a separation mechanism for the multi-stage rocket our Rocket Club team has been working on. I have come up with an idea that uses an altimeter to trigger a capacitive discharge that sets off strategically placed, small firework-like pyrotechnics that break the connection between the primary, solid-fuel stage of our rocket and the secondary, liquid-fuel stage. We will be testing this approach in a week or so, once I have calibrated the altimeter with the firing capacitors.”

If I were an admissions officer, this would impress me a lot for several reasons. First, this kind of statement shows real passion and dedication to a long-term activity. Second, it shows creativity. Using capacitors and small fireworks controlled by an altimeter is really quite resourceful. Third, it’s obvious that a student who can focus so intensely on a complicated technical project like this has the intellectual capacity to be a success in college.

Granted, your activities may not involve multi-stage rockets, but I use this example to show you what is possible when it comes to selling yourself, come mid-year report time.

You may also be an athlete and have had some individual or team success since your applications went in. These are the kinds of things you want your college(s) to know. Take some quiet time to think about what you have done and accomplished. A good way to think about mid-year reports is that you want to project to the admissions folks something along the lines of “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! My best is yet to come!”

Thus, these are some of the things you can do while you’re waiting for your admission decisions. Now, though, I want to caution you about what not to do between now and decision day — falling victim to senioritis.

First, some personal perspective:

college just ahead

I’ve run a few marathons in my day, including Boston. When I’ve been training for those 26.2-mile endurance events, I’ve often thought of an analogy between a marathon and a K-12 educational career. There are some similarities. First of all, it can seem endless. It’s better not to think about how far there is to go but, rather, about how far you’ve come. Also, there’s the famous “Wall” with 10K to go. That’s where your muscles have burned almost all of their glycogen and the lactic acid is sending waves of fatigue across your body, not to mention your mind.

In my experience in dealing with academic “marathoners,” I’ve found that they sometimes hit their “wall” around this time of year, right after all their applications, recommendations, and grade reports have gone in. In addition to a gigantic sigh of relief (finally being able to exhale after dealing with stressful deadlines), some seniors succumb to the overwhelming temptation to give in to that academic lactic acid and greatly slow their pace or, in some cases, even stop running and begin a nice, easy, figurative stroll. Senioritis is more common than you may imagine, and it can have wildly negative effects.

You have to realize that getting your applications finished and submitted is NOT the finish line. Don’t be fooled. College admissions officers will still be scrutinizing your academic performance on your mid-year reports and straight through final grades. More than one high school senior has had his or her college acceptance rescinded because of letting off the gas pedal way too soon. That’s one of the “wildly negative” outcomes I referenced.  So, keep that in mind as the remainder of senior year looms before you.

Recapping, then, for additional special emphasis …

Google logo

Mid-year reports are sort of the “other shoe” of college applications, and they’re coming due next month. If you go to Google and search for the term “college mid-year report,” you’ll find this definition:

The Mid-Year Report is an application form that a school counselor typically submits to colleges once a student’s first semester (or first trimester) grades are recorded on the transcript. The form itself is usually submitted along with a most recent official transcript.

It serves more than one purpose. For those who have been accepted in the early (ED/EA) application rounds, it provides a window into your ongoing (primarily) academic and (secondarily) extracurricular performance. Colleges keep a close eye on their admits and this is one way to spot any early signs of senioritis.

Of course, as I mentioned above, for those Regular Decision applicants, it provides colleges with additional, hopefully positively supporting, evidence of an applicant’s worthiness. Obviously, applicants want to present the strongest possible case for their admission quest. The mid-year report offers that opportunity. Again, think “marketing opportunity.”

One final admonition: Carefully check your colleges’ deadlines for mid-year report due dates and whether or not they require one for you, if you were admitted early. Some colleges will not remind you that the report is due, so avoid the situation of an incomplete application. Leave no application process stone unturned!

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.