Making Peace With The Process

It's a shame more high school students don't read Reinhold Niebuhr, the Protestant theologian who inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. Assigned reading for many a college freshman, Niebuhr's most oft-quoted insight is perfect advice for applicants, too: "Give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." If only it were as easy to dispel admissions anxiety as it is to drop an admissions packet in the mail. This magazine aims to help you manage that anxiety by explaining the process and offering advice.

It's vital to realize that no single college is likely to be a perfect fit for you--but there are dozens of spots where you can adapt and excel. Think broadly about the types of schools where you could do well--large urban campuses, perhaps, or small religious schools in the Midwest--rather than limiting yourself to a few "dream" spots. There will be plenty of time to narrow down your choices before sending in applications.

And don't get too excited by what the authors of countless college admissions books may write about the importance of extracurricular activities, the virtues of sport, or the merits of lavender-scented cover letters. The fact is, the single most important factor is your grades. By the time you send off your application, the die has already been cast: Students are judged on their grades up to the middle of their senior year. Spending a summer digging wells in South America looks good on your application, but only if you've got the grades as well.

So worry most about those. Accept that many places will be a good fit and that your dream school might not be perfect. Recognize that in the end both you and the college are making an informed guess--you might choose the wrong school, and it might make the wrong decision to accept or reject you. Above all, remember that college, any college, is going to set you well on the path for a successful career and life beyond the classroom.

By Alex Kingsbury