Jeff Selingo, the author of “Who Gets In and Why,” has developed a spot-on metaphor about the types of kids applying to college. He describes them as either Drivers or Passengers.
“Drivers” are the kids who have long known what they want in a college. They’re spending their time researching colleges and figuring out which ones might be good fits. They might be very purposeful about the activities they are involved in, and they might start working on applications well before their peers.
“Passengers”, on the other hand, have less of an understanding of what applying to college entails. They may have little idea of what they’re looking for in a college, and they’d like someone else to guide them and suggest places to explore. Maybe they’ll have a semblance of a college list before school starts, but they probably won’t have started on writing essays or putting together their applications before September of their Senior year.
I’ve taken the liberty of adding to this metaphor. I have found that there are many students (especially after Covid) who, during the summer before senior year, haven’t even gotten INTO the car. They know where the car is, and they know the college application process is starting to heat up, but they are not quite ready to get in that car. Perhaps it’s denial or avoidance. They keep meaning to do some research on colleges, but they never seem to do it. And the personal statement feels too overwhelming and scary even to think about.
And then there are others who don’t really know where the car is. They know it’s parked somewhere nearby given all the chatter they hear, but they really have no idea how to find it. Which can really start to feel stressful.
There are other types as well, like kids who started “driving” but then got out before they got much done or figured out. Maybe they’ve realized that they really don’t know what they want. Maybe it’s just too much to deal with right now.
Here’s the thing: each of these scenarios is normal and natural. The college application process is just that…a process. It can take a while for some kids to get in the swing of things. For parents, this can be extraordinarily stressful and downright exasperating. It’s far too easy for us to “catastrophize” and picture what life will be like when these kids aren’t in college and are in our basement instead.
I find working with kids who haven’t gotten into the car–or who started driving but got out–incredibly gratifying. Helping them take bite-sized, manageable steps to understand who they are and what they want can get them going just enough to get them excited about the process. They start to own the process. Then, typically, their process picks up speed, and they are off.
Please let me know if you know of a kid or a family who might need a little extra support and help to find, get in, or start driving that car!
I help students and their families navigate the college admissions process. I empower students to figure out who they are and where they belong, and I provide structure, insight, and enthusiasm as we find colleges that are the best fit academically, socially, and financially. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a 30 minute complimentary session to learn more!