April 26, 2020
Now that we're into the month of March, high school seniors around the globe are no doubt thinking about one thing: College acceptances. "Where will I be going to college this fall?" "Who has accepted me?" "Who will deny me?" "When will I find out?"
The answer to that final question is: Soon! In a few short weeks, or in some cases even sooner than that, the good (and not so good) news will arrive. Then it will be time for a critical assessment. What is your best match? Which school offers the best combination of match and affordability? Where should I visit? What will be the consequences of my decision?
Plus, while all that is going on, you will likely think back across your entire college process and think about those people who have helped you with it. An important question to ask yourself is: "Where would I be now without their help?" I'd like you to think about that.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and we were discussing our children's generation. They are in the so-called Generation X.
We talked about how some younger people today may have skipped a few classes in their "Appreciation" curriculum. My friend cited a story about the daughter-in-law of a friend of his (apparently, we were exploiting our Friends Network). My friend's friend would dutifully send his daughter-in-law a Christmas card every year and enclose a check for several hundred dollars as a Christmas gift. According to my friend, his friend's Christmas gift tradition for his daughter-in-law has ended as of last Christmas.
I asked why. Simple reason -- the daughter-in-law never once acknowledged any of the gifts her father-in-law sent. No phone calls, no cards or short notes, not even a text or email of thanks, which in my view occupies the lowest and laziest position on the manners totem pole.
I was shocked to hear about this, since both my friend and I and our wives have taken great care while raising our children to educate them about the role of showing appreciation and saying thanks for gifts, help, and other acts of kindness from others.
Which brings me to the subject of my post today, aimed at all of you college-bound high school seniors: showing your thanks to those who helped you accomplish your college admissions success. Doing so takes only moments, but the impression you leave can last a lifetime.
Okay, then. Who might those be who helped you during your college quest?
Let's start with Mom and Dad. Parents are so close to us as we grow up that they sometimes become part of the landscape. It's kind of a "can't see the forest because of the trees" effect. We can overlook their many contributions and sacrifices because they're just "Mom and Dad."
Their contributions might include, for example, transporting you to any number of extracurricular activities during your high school years. Those activities may have formed an impressive part of your college applications, which, hopefully, have paid off with much good news. They may have also offered you solace and encouragement when things got tough and you became discouraged or even heartbroken over a failed relationship. Also, let's not forget those college visits, where they made long drives in the car with you and burned their their vacation days as you shopped for a good college match.
Perhaps one of the most important contributions parents can make for their budding collegians is finances. Although you may never know all the details about how your parents are able to manage the financial demands of your college education, some day you may become extremely aware, as you enter the sobering world of college costs for your own children. That's where "sacrifice" comes in. Along with sacrifice comes debt, in the form of loans, both for you and your parents, who in many cases become co-signers for your student loans.
The list of parental help can go on, but those types I just mentioned are the most often provided. However, you may come from a situation where either one or both of your parents' help has been lacking. In cases like this, you may have had a mentor.
Mentors can be amazing in their generosity and knowledge. They usually appear when they see someone who needs help doing something and is struggling getting it done. In the case of college admissions, a mentor might be someone you met who graduated from the college you were targeting. This person may have heard that you were thinking of applying to their alma mater and took the time to ask if they could answer questions about the college.
Mentors can also work in cooperation with parents, but in many of the cases I've seen, mentors usually become the primary source of advice and wisdom about the college process. In one case I know, a local doctor who graduated from a prominent Northeastern liberal arts college, took two high school seniors on a multi-day visit of several highly selective Northeastern colleges. Otherwise, these students would not have been able to make those campus visits. Their parents could not afford the trips.
School counselors can be a big plus in your college quest. Has yours been exceptional in some regards? I can cite my own experience in regards to our son's high school counselor who made a special trip to our son't first-choice college, where he applied Early Action. This gentleman met with the regional admissions representative and gave our son a wonderful personal recommendation, which I'm sure added some luster to the application process. Our son was accepted EA in December. The school was Princeton University.
Teachers are an important part of the admissions cycle too, obviously, because they provide important input to the admissions committee through their recommendations. Although students rarely see the actual recommendations themselves, the recs can bring out crucial insights about the applicant that even parents may not sense about their children, since they do not see them in the day-to-day academic setting that teachers do. The thing to remember teacher recommendations is that they take a long time to create and some teachers spend long hours at home on their computers creating unique, incisive, and memorable narratives in support of their students' application ventures.
Even friends, your high school buddies, can give you a boost at application time. Some colleges allow for an optional "peer" recommendation. That's where you can ask a good friend to write in support of your application. While these recs may not carry the same weight as those from a counselor or teacher, they can augment the evaluation process by revealing subtle aspects about the applicant. Friendship is different than a family relationship and eclipses student-teacher and counselor-advisee connections. So, don't forget to thank your friend, if s/he has written in your behalf.
These are the primary sources of support for college applicants, but they're certainly not all of them. Others might include a pastor, a supervisor from a summer (or current) job, a sports coach, a politician for whom you campaigned, or any other person who contributed in any way to your application outcomes.
I'm sure that you get my point by now. So, take a moment to think back over all those who helped you along the way. What should you do?
Showing your appreciation in some way is an excellent, and in my view, required gesture. Send a thank-you note to those teachers and your counselor.
As for your parents, maybe you could take them out for lunch or wash the family car. The important thing is to make sure that these folks know that you appreciate what they’ve done.
Saying thanks for a job well done is something you’ll never regret, and a token your supporters will likely always remember.
Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.