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My daughter is a senior in high school and entering the first phases of the college admission process, which I recently wrote about here at Inside Higher Ed. With the Common App opening on Aug. 1, she is trying to get her bearings when it comes to this process. I am trying not to interfere, but I seem to not be able to help myself. To give her ownership over her own applications, I decided to do what I know how to do: create a syllabus for her.

Learning objectives:

  • To develop skills in organizing complicated tasks to efficiently meet deadlines
  • To organize disparate, confusing information
  • To create an applications portfolio that tells the whole story of your 17-year-old life in a way that admissions officers will see the added value of accepting you into their campus community
  • To teach your parents to back off and let you figure out this kind of process for yourself
  • To apply to the colleges of your choice


  • Your participation in this process will require you to produce several deliverables, some of which will be overlapping, and some of which will require to hassle others to produce for you.

Successful completion of this course will entail:

  • One 650-word essay on themes outlined by the Common Application, and
  • One to 10 additional 250- to 750-word essays, determined by each college you are applying to. (Side note: You do not need to hire a professional writer to help you write these essays. Your high school teachers, guidance counselor and parents stand ready to help. I promise your essay will be just as compelling, and perhaps more personal, as a result.)
  • Letters of recommendations written by your junior-year teachers, whom you interacted with over Zoom, Canvas and email for an academic year, but who will likely be unable to recognize you masked in person this year. Be sure to give your letter writers your “brag sheet” to highlight things they can put in your letter but, hopefully, not remind them that you emailed them multiple times asking what you could do to get an A. (Side note: Please do not ever email your college professors asking this question. Some of them may react poorly [ahem].)
  • Your list of activities and achievements over the past three years. Sure, half of that time was spent at home instead of at school, on the field or doing community service, but you still need to present yourself as an engaged yet grounded go-getter. (Side note: Let’s think about how you can translate taking care of your kindergartner sister while your mom and dad tried to work from home into something that sounds really great, because it was. Thank you.)

Course schedule:

In just one year, you will receive your syllabi for your first college courses. You will notice that professors have a wide range of relationships to their syllabi. Yet, for each class, you’ll be responsible for meeting deadlines, coordinating your own schedule to get your assignments done and preparing for exams, which always seem to fall during the same week.

Your applications will probably be submitted on Nov. 15 or Dec. 15, or maybe Jan. 15. There is something called early decision, which differs from early action, and that’s a whole other story. Be sure to adhere to all deadlines.

Course advice:

To prepare you for this process, you will go through this college application process exactly how you shouldn’t go through an actual college class. You will rely on what your friends are doing to know what you should be doing. You will receive conflicting emails from your school counselor, Naviance and individual schools about how to submit materials. You will have your parents nagging you about upcoming deadlines.

But one aspect of this process will remain when you show up to college next year: it will feel overwhelming. It will seem that everyone else knows what’s going on except for you. You will have to sit with a nagging feeling that you aren’t doing it right and that your actions have major consequences for your future.

You’ve got this. You really do. Gather your materials, check the boxes, think about how to present your whole self to potential colleges. Because when you show up in class just one year from now, trust me: your professors stand ready to welcome that whole self to a place where you truly belong.

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