I recently read Michal Oshman’s What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?: Discover a Life Filled with Purpose and Joy through the Secrets of Jewish Wisdom. Although this is not a college admissions book, the lessons she imparts in the chapter Cross Your Narrow Bridge are really applicable to the admissions process, and I am excited to show you how!
Oshman starts the chapter with this quote by Vice President Kamala Harris: “My mother always used to say, ‘Don’t just sit around and complain about things. Do something.’…So I did something.”
When I read this, I laughed! My mom said the same thing to me as a child, and I, too, have been saying this to my kids for years. And you know what, when my kids did something, they usually felt better. When I do something, I feel better.
So, how does one “do something?” Oshman suggests we:
- Replace fear with action;
- Pause thinking, start doing;
- Cross the bridge of trust; and
- Don’t be afraid of failure.
As with most books I read, I often find a connection to my work with students.
Here is my take on how students (and parents) can use these four lessons to face any fears/anxieties they may have about the college admissions process.
Replace Fear with Action
Yes, the college admissions process might be scary. It’s something that is full of “uncontrollable” outcomes at a time when our teens crave control. Wanting this is in their DNA. Their growing need for independence, autonomy, and control runs counter to this unpredictable admissions process.
For some students, their fear might be rooted in that they don’t know where to begin or feel that since they don’t know what they want to study, they question how they can ever pick a college. Others may worry they will fall in love with a school they may not get into. Perhaps they are concerned they might not get into any school.
These fears can be paralyzing.
Regardless of the source of their fear, parents can first validate their concerns before slowly introducing tips on how they can take action. This approach often leads to better conversations and, therefore, more action.
John F. Kennedy once said, “In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power.” The college admissions process is certainly a time full of turbulence and change, so the more knowledge our children have, the more power they will feel over their process.
Pause Thinking, Start Doing
Overthinking often leads to “analysis paralysis.” In other words, spending too much time thinking can lead to the inability to make decisions or take action. When students overthink where to apply, where to visit, what to study, and other aspects of the college admissions process, they may not be able to do the work to find the answers to these questions.
Analysis paralysis can happen for several reasons:
- Fear of Making Mistakes: Whether it is picking the “right” school or “right” essay topic, students might fear making the wrong choice, so they obsessively analyze every detail to try to avoid errors.
- Information Overload: There is often too much information available. Trying to process all of it can lead to analysis paralysis.
- Lack of Confidence: When students don’t trust their own judgment, they tend to spend an inordinate amount of time collecting data which can lead to additional information overload.
- Perfectionism: A student’s drive to be a “perfect student,” a “perfect college applicant,” or to write a “perfect essay” often leads to overthinking, which, in turn, often leads to inaction.
When students can accept that they may experience failure along the way, block out excess noise, trust that the worst decision is the decision to do nothing, and embrace the imperfections of the process, they may just consider their journey a success.
Crossing the Bridge of Trust
If you have spent time with teenagers, you know that they often trust their friends’ opinions and social media more than they trust a parent’s opinion. In particular, for today’s teens, TikTok has become an important source for the college admissions process.
What teens don’t know is that the basics of the college admissions process don’t change… applicants need to be able to accomplish tasks such as meeting deadlines, demonstrating their interest in attending a certain school, and telling their story. So even though teens may think they know it all, we can help them understand how they would be well served by some focused advising. We build trust with them, because we are not their parents, and there is a reason why this works for so many students.
Don’t be Afraid of Failure
Accepting failure is one of the hardest things for students to embrace. Let’s face it: no one likes to fail, but students hoping to get into their “dream” school are the worst at looking failure in the face. Every time there is a less-than-perfect score, a lost student council election, or minutes sitting on the bench instead of playing in the game, it can seem like that’s one thing that will keep them from achieving their goals.
No one wants to make mistakes, but they are inevitable. Too often, our children are so worried about making a mistake that they don’t – or won’t – step out of their comfort zones, try new things, or advocate for themselves. However, when they do embrace the idea that something might not go their way, their journey ultimately becomes more meaningful… thanks in part to the bumps they rode along the way.
Oshman’s book, and specifically this chapter, highlighted for me how the College Bound Advising Difference – the way we help kids find their “why” – instills in students valuable life skills that will serve them even beyond the college admissions process. (Learn more about how my background informs our values here.)
Sure, we help them do the work to make these important self-discoveries, but we also make sure we help them lay the groundwork for long-term success in life. As Oshman writes, “When we choose courage over fear, when we choose action, we choose to live instead of exist.” And isn’t this exactly what we want for our children when we think about them going off to college? Why wait… let’s start now.