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Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
    (1964-1969)
  • Stanford University
    (1969-1984)
  • Princeton University
    (1988-2003)

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    (1966-1977)
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    (1977-1987)
    International Office Director
    (1987-2002)

Sprint to the Finish!

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comWhether they realize or not, high school seniors are entering one of the most critical phases of the admission process. This is the time of the year when admission officers watch to see what students do when it would seem the spotlight is no longer on them. They want to see how students respond down the “stretch run” of the senior year.

Consider, then, the mile race. It is an apt metaphor for your high school experience. In order to complete the race, you need to make it around the track four times. Winning requires that you endure the grueling pace and still have what it takes to sprint when the race is on the line.

Let’s suppose, then, that your race has gone exceedingly well through the first three laps. You jumped out to an early lead and have maintained a strong pace. With only one lap to go, you are by yourself. You can’t even see the competition! This is a critical stage of the race because you begin to ask yourself, “Do I really need to work that hard in running the last lap? Should I save myself for the next race and spare the inevitable agony that otherwise comes with a sprint to the finish?”

The question you really need to ask yourself, though, is: “What have I won?” The answer is simple. “You haven’t won a thing!” You may have a “feel-good” feeling about where you are in the competition, but the race isn’t over. Moreover, changing your approach with a lap to go could prove costly as other runners are bound to be pushing hard to catch up.

The same is true of your high school experience in which each year is like a lap of the race. Each year was important academically as it prepared you to step up and meet the challenge of the year that followed. In all likelihood, your Junior Year really put you to the test as the work was harder and the expectations were greater. But you made it and that may have been cause for celebration in itself!

Having done well through your Junior Year may have left you feeling good about your prospects of graduating and getting into the colleges of your choice. Nonetheless, you need to ask yourself, “What have I accomplished? How many colleges have accepted me?”

The Senior Year is the all-important “last lap” of your high school experience. If your objective is to not only graduate but to get into colleges that can make choices among hundreds if not thousands of compelling candidates, you need to be attentive to how you are finishing the “race.” Even now, in mid-March of your Senior Year, the outcome of the race has yet to be determined. And, believe it or not, admission officers at selective institutions are waiting and watching to see who among the competitive applicants will sprint–or stumble–when the race is on the line.

So, stay focused academically. Continue to get the most out of your high school experience–even when it would seem that doing nothing is a viable option. In doing so, you give admission officers every reason to be excited about you as you sprint to the finish!

For more advice from Peter Van Buskirk on college planning, visit TheAdmissionGame.com.