As a dean of admissions for a selective Ivy League university, every December I give the same advice to high school seniors approaching deadlines and receiving Early Application results: Now is the time to revisit and remind yourself why a college is on your list and why it has and should remain on your list. Refocus your remaining choices if you have been admitted under a non-binding Early Action or Rolling Admission Program, and if you haven't, move forward constructively and with focus on your other applications, including your responses to school specific essay prompts.
For those students familiar with my blog, Page 217, connecting Self-Assessment 5 I's and Assessing College's 4 C's, I am now extending the framework to an important step which I always address in my talks on the college process and am now developing on my blog.
In this phase (again, relevant to seniors and younger classes) students identify up to 5 Attributes which define priority characteristics of your ideal college environment. Define your priorities around a list of attributes you want from your college experience primarily centered on the Academic program and the overall Atmosphere you would like to be part of in college. Students and parents also need to seek Alignment with their respective criteria so there are no surprises as you get further into the process. Alignment also needs to take place with the reality of Admission selectivity and Aid policies, which seniors may have begun to experience more personally.
So for the seniors approaching deadlines: What priorities did you establish for your initial college criteria; (Urban; Great History Department; Diversity of student body; Active Club Sports; access to music scene)? The first 3 Attributes may be the deal breakers and the last two somewhat flexible. Also push yourself; does Urban mean in a city or readily accessible by transit in less than 30 minutes? Do the schools on my college list match up with these Attributes? Admission alignment is not adding a less selective school that doesn't fit the criteria. Also don't just start applying to more schools with single digit admit rates and testing where you may be 'out of range' if you were just deferred or denied in an Early Program.
For all students, a natural triangulation should eventually form between these Attributes with your Identity and College Assessments. Consistently remind yourself that you are establishing your own criteria, you have developed a sense of self through reflection and you are determining if a school is a good fit for you.
Then you can authentically tell your story in essays and interviews, which will the topics of upcoming blogs between now and January 1 on page 217.