Control What You Can Control and Let Go of the Rest

How to Keep Your Sanity During the College Application and Admissions Process

            “Control what you can control.” You’ve probably heard this saying a thousand times. “And let go of the things you can’t.” This is always easier said than done, right? Yes, but it’s still good advice for life. Honestly, the older I get, the more I remind myself of this advice, and the more it helps me stay balanced during the most stressful and anxiety-provoking times I face.

            Speaking of stressful and anxiety-provoking times: how about the college application and admissions period for high school seniors? For some, it can be the most overwhelming time of their young lives. If that is the case for you, remember these wise words and take them to heart. From my perspective, it’s the sagest advice to keep close while navigating this challenging time.

            There is so much that goes on “behind the curtain” at universities when deciding which students will be admitted and who won’t. College admissions officers don’t just sit down, take a cursory look at student applications, and simply say “Yay” or “Nay.” On the contrary, college admissions committees (college admissions officers, college admissions counselors, enrollment officers, etc.) put a ton of time, thought, and care into selecting students for their incoming first-year classes. They consider factors like student financial need, enrollment targets for all majors, and diversity, among countless other factors. They have the unenviable task of both selecting the best possible body of prospective students while being mindful of the needs of the university. Universities, after all, are large businesses and must be efficiently run to stay afloat. For example, “At most institutions, the enrollment goals are the revenue goals; successful enrollment management requires the management of financial aid in such a way that the number, mix and profile of enrolled students produces the desired net revenue after aid.” (Kalsbeek and Hossler). That’s tough to swallow because most of us prefer to look at postsecondary education as a public good that benefits society and is not tied to allocations and bottom lines.

            Now, I share this information not to discourage you from striving for your postsecondary goals, far from it. My goal is to shine some light on the reality of the college admissions process to help you manage this experience with perspective and steadiness. What takes place at universities during the review and acceptance season is complex and entirely out of your hands. So, let go of it.

            Instead, focus on controlling what you can control before and during the application process. Here are some of those things:

  • Demonstrate interest in the universities you truly want to gain admission to. Some universities actually track just how often students contact them, whether it be through attending online informational sessions, enrolling in camps and programs, following them on social media, or even emailing the admissions office with an inquiry. This continued involvement demonstrates genuine interest and can be looked upon favorably when it is time for a university to accept you or not.
  • Ensure you take ample time to develop an effective college application list that has a good blend of schools you will apply to. I suggest applying to somewhere between 8 to 15 universities. These schools should all be universities that are an excellent fit for you and your wants/needs and that you have a genuine interest in attending should you be accepted. These 8 to 15 schools should be evenly categorized as “reach, “target,” and “safety” schools.
  • Take the necessary time to make sure the college application you submit is polished and something you are proud of. As an Admissions Director of a top-tier university explained to me, when students don’t take their time in making sure that all elements of the application are completed with care and effort, it is noticeable and will negatively impact them in the admissions process. So, start your applications early. Ideally, that would be after your junior year concludes and summer begins. Please ensure that all of your proverbial “t’s” are crossed and “i’s” are dotted, paying particular attention to crafting the most compelling college application essays. 

Should you need assistance developing the ideal college application list or ensuring that your applications, including your application essays, are polished, we at Gramma’s Jam ( are more than happy to help.            

            So, one more time…just control what you can control. Paint the most favorable picture of yourself for admissions officers to see, and try your best to let the rest go. This is solid advice for high school seniors beginning the college application process and, as old guys like me will tell you, for life itself. While you will likely face some rejections along the way, that’s OK. Everyone does. That is just part of the journey. When the dust settles, I am confident you will also get more than your share of acceptances, end up at an outstanding institution, and have an amazing and enriching college experience.

            I will be rooting for you!

Works Cited

Hossler, Don, and David H. Kalsbeek. “Enrollment Management and Managing Enrollment: Setting the Context for Dialogue.” College and University, vol. 83, no. 4, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, Apr. 2008, pp. 3–9.

Start Jamminā€™ On YourĀ College App Journey Now

Your junior and senior years are busy enough, so get to work on your college apps now! By starting early, you will avoid getting overwhelmed by everything else you have going on. Most importantly, you will be able to devote the time you need to reflect on what you genuinely want out of your college experience and to craft impactful and polished college apps that you are proud of!

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