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Stuck in the Airport, College Applicants? Make That Downtime the Right Time!

Yesterday, a client and her son were stuck in the airport after a college visit. Fortunately, it was a good trip, and they were excited about the prospect of the student possibly attending that particular college. (I won’t give it away; that would mean more competition for my student!)

I pictured the scene at the airport: stranded passengers holding their mobile devices a set distance away from their faces at the requisite angle. If the device users were under 21, it was likely that there was nothing serious on the screen; instead there were texts, games, or Facebook feeds. It was time to intervene. So I created a two-part assignment for the student and texted him to check his email.

What could the student possibly get done in the airport? I asked him to answer the “Why [name of college]?” question that would likely be required in his application. (Colleges often don’t post official questions until July or August.) If he were to finish that task, I suggested that he choose a Common App essay prompt. What a pleasure it would be knowing that the student might actually complete these key tasks in June! No more having to meet a Labor Day deadline, not to mention preventing the panic of finalizing an essay in October or November (when that student should be devoting himself or herself to pursuing academic and extracurricular goals).

Assignment One: “Why [name of college]?” Almost every college asks this question on its Common App supplement or on its own application. Yet when my students try to complete that task in the fall, many of them struggle. The reason: too much time has passed between the college visit and completing the question. When I recommend naming the tour guide who made such interesting remarks, the professor whose class they checked out, or the activities that sounded most relevant, students are stumped, simply because they didn’t write down the response to “Why [name of college]? in a timely manner! College applicants: This is simply not acceptable! As soon as a prospect sees a college, especially one about which you are excited, it is essential to answer the “Why [name of college]?” question right then and there, using the internet later to fact-check.

Assignment Two: Personal Essay Prompt. Regarding the second assignment, I urge all students – and make it very clear to parents – that I expect the college essay to be drafted by Labor Day. Unfortunately, too many students let that all-important task slide, somehow forgetting that vacations, volunteer work, obligations, and perhaps a drop of writer’s block may set in later in the summer or, scarily, in the fall. While the 2015-16 Common App isn’t official until August 1, 2015, we know that some prompts have been modified, while one – my previous students’ favorite – has been replaced. I am urging my rising seniors to seriously consider Prompt 1 (“share your story”) and Prompt 4 (“Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve”) from the new Common App. Both have enormous potential to relay their personality, strengths, and talents to the universe of college admissions officers.

So to any college applicant stuck in an airport, train station, or bus line: Take advantage of your devices and get these tasks done! Then look at the arrivals and departures board. You’re ready to soar!


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