From Public to Private: Managing the College Process

Ah, the sound of silence. The unnatural quiet of senior year when, come fall, the college application process kicks into full gear. You and your friends have spent part of the summer brainstorming essay ideas or comparing notes on the activities section. Spoofing or upping each other on outlandish details can be fun. (Activity: Rescue Dog Caretaker, anyone?) A good laugh can really take the edge off a stressful situation.

However, in the days and weeks to come, you will stop talking about college plans and begin creating and submitting applications. The public discussion of college lists and top choices will be private, and most students will hold their cards very close to their chests. The fall of senior year is a much quieter time for exploring colleges.

Junior year was filled with shared experiences, both in-person and remotely: chats with friends, school events or evenings for college planning, and some mix of live and virtual campus tours. There was likely online research as well as you built your college lists. As unique as your particular junior year was, I predict that for this year’s seniors, the quiet independence of the fall will remain basically the same as it was for your predecessors.

In the past, the first days of school brought chatter about recent summer activities and college plans. But it is natural for the dialogue surrounding college lists and application strategies to quiet down during the fall of senior year. College apps and plans are not open for discussion: as students refine and balance lists and write their college essays, the need to share becomes less important.

There definitely is both a public and private nature to the college search process, and you are now entering the “discreet” phase. This is the time to focus, attend to your own personal plan, and begin to conquer the work of the main essays, supplemental essays, applications, resumes, and whatever else is on your plate. As you dial down to the nitty-gritty of your application details, switch your approach to privacy mode.

Reducing chatter about college apps will certainly reduce the number of distractions coming your way and may also lower your stress considerably. Avoiding questions about your reach and likely schools will allow you to keep your mind on your own strategy and stick to making calm, informed decisions.

Check in with those in the know but limit detailed conversations to those directly involved in your plan, such as parents, teachers, or counselors. If you are unsure of specific information related to your college search, go to reliable sources — including college admissions representatives. This will keep you from listening or contributing to any urban myths that may be circling the neighborhood.

Stay calm and in the present. Continue to do your research and take note of the facts. Relate the facts to your own story. When you make the college search totally personal, your school choices will center on your story, your particular best, and a realistic or healthy balance of undergraduate programs that are a good fit for you — and less a reflection of what your friends are doing.

Enjoy the sound of silence. The shift from public discussion to private investigation will reduce stress and allow you to keep a cool head during college app crunch time.