The Real Reason to Start Your College Search Early

My phone rang on the afternoon of December 23rd.  It was the second call I’d received from moms of students who had been deferred by Harvard after applying Early Action.

A student who has been deferred at an uber-competitive college like Harvard clearly has to be a rock star.  Studies have actually shown that just putting yourself in the applicant pool – considering yourself to be a candidate for a Harvard-like school in your college application process – means you will be a successful college student wherever you go, and successful later in life.  It actually doesn’t take a Harvard education to catalyze that, if you self-select into that group.

Providence College
Providence College

But the problem here was expectations, and what most people would call “top-tier schools” (counselors hesitate to call them that, but that’s another post) are always good at disappointing.  Students who apply to these super-tough schools know the numbers – they only admit x percent (sometimes it’s 4%, sometimes it’s 20%, occasionally it’s higher for the early round) – but they just assume they’ll be part of that small select group.  Their parents have encouraged this thinking – probably for years – with praise and support sprinkled with veiled promises.  “If you get good grades and strong test scores, colleges will clamor to let you in.”  “If you start a club at school and do research over the summer, the Ivies will be throwing scholarships at you.”  “If you get a perfect score on the SAT or all 5s on your AP exams, you’re a shoo-in.”  If you do x, you’ll obviously be one of that tiny, tiny group.  And herein lies the problem.

You’ve been lying to your kids.

The longer you continue to mention that “name” school as “the dream,” the longer you (and your child) cling to belief that getting into one of those “name” colleges is the only successful outcome of their college application process, the harder the reality will hit when (if) bad news comes.  So when my phone rings on December 23, I know it’s not one of our long-term clients, who spent time researching and building their balanced college list.  I know it’s someone who was shocked, distraught, and blindsided by the news they received.

I actually got three such calls in December – two Harvard deferrals and an MIT denial.  One of the students was in tears when we had our first meeting, on December 24th.  I had to turn on my “counselor” mode before shifting back into “let’s make a going-forward plan” mode.

When your school counselor, or an independent counselor you meet with, tells you a certain “name” school is a “reach,” we’re not trying to tell you your child isn’t good enough to be successful there.  We’re not telling you that you won’t get in.  We’re not trying to be Debbie Downer!  But we understand the numbers, and as independent counselors, we see trends beyond a particular high school.  Most of us who are trained to guide students through their college search and application process will use words like “lottery” when it comes to these schools.  There’s simply no guarantee that your straight-A, perfect test score, class president, amazing volunteer and teacher favorite kiddo will win that lottery.  And remember what I said at the beginning:  that kid – YOUR kid – will succeed no matter what college s/he attends.

So it’s fine to play the lottery!  But are you ever shocked if you don’t win?

And THIS is why we like to start working with students in late 10th or early 11th grade.  Because we’ll prove to you that there are hundreds of colleges out there where your child can blossom.  Where s/he will find mentors and lifelong friends.

Where s/he can be happy and successful, academically, socially and emotionally.

That’s our goal, as we help students build a balanced college list.

As a parent, there’s nothing worse than seeing your child unhappy.  And for a teenager, there is NOTHING worse than the feeling of having disappointed their parents.  So as we build that list, we help everyone manage expectations.  There are always reach schools on the list.  But there’s balance, so that we have choices.  So they feel like their hard work has led to a reward.

By the way – our results with our long-term clients from the Class of 2021 so far?  

  • Our team worked with 110 seniors this cycle
  • 78 of them have been admitted to at least one college
  • They’ve been admitted to 98 DIFFERENT colleges (wait, there are more than 25 “good” ones?)
  • They’ve been offered (are you sitting down?) $8.9 million dollars in MERIT scholarships 

So far.  It’s January 5th.

If you’d like some help through your child’s college search process, our team of 12 trained college counselors help guide students to those amazing outcomes.  Give us a call if you’d like a free consultation.




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