When the college admission process looms large, all too often education is framed as a series of transactions. What ACT score do I need to be competitive (to be admitted to this college)? How many AP classes are required (to be competitive for this college)? Will visiting affect my chances of being admitted (to this college)?
For some students, these educational transactions can be very motivating, especially when ranking and sorting is at stake or when working towards improved standardized test scores or a higher GPA. But for many students, the cumulative effect -- the intensification and proliferation of these transactions leaves them feeling depleted by the time the admissions process rolls around in earnest, especially when the sum total of similar transactions results in confounding decisions for this year’s seniors...who’ve just come out on the other side of the process. Or worse, students feel bored, and due to the pressures of the college admissions process, they feel (in the words of two New York Times columnists who spent six years traveling the United States studying high schools) “conscripted into a game that nobody wants to be playing.”
One way to motivate students is to remind them early and often that education is there for the taking right now -- help them find ways to feel connected to their school work or through extracurricular activities and to develop a healthy attitude toward learning as part of the process of becoming (someone), not just an incidental bi-product of the admissions process.
Another way to motivate might be to visit family members or friends who’ve transitioned successfully to colleges (that might not have been their top choice!). Help your high schooler to see that colleges afford exponential opportunity to learn and grow in ways that are exciting and unimagined -- and that will contribute to the process of becoming an interesting, well-educated person.
Finally, students can be motivated by your support (early and often) to keep the admissions process in perspective and in its proper place -- by your encouragement to not let it spiral out of control or spillover into every aspect of your student’s life. Help your student become knowledgeable about the admission process -- application deadlines and decision plans, requirements, the Common Application (for most schools) or the Coalition Application (for many others). Discuss a realistic project plan that can be revised and updated as new information comes into focus. Should family dynamics become an impediment rather than a rudder in the admission process, find a trusted resource who can help you navigate, re-frame, and motivate!