“Good Enough is Never Enough”

By Peter Van Buskirk

As the days grow shorter, high school seniors are faced with a time of reckoning as they prepare college applications. The academic year is in full swing with new academic challenges and a sense of nostalgia that is sweeping over students as they wistfully embrace events and relationships for the “last time” in their high school experience. And, for many, the college application process looms as another layer of intense activity on top of an already busy schedule.

The excitement and allure of going to college has begun to wane as the process of applying becomes an onerous imposition. With pending deadlines and mounting requirements, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get it all done! As a result, there is a tendency to choose the course of least resistance—to do what is “good enough.”

I would like to offer a word to the wise if you find yourself in this situation. Stay focused. Now is the time to do your best work even though doing so might mean making compromises in your social life. You can’t “will” great grades. Essays don’t become excellent overnight. College applications don’t materialize out of thin air.

Keep in mind the competition for admission. Popular forecasts to the contrary, the competition at selective institutions continues unabated as a higher proportion of the college age population applies to college. As a result, colleges will continue to be inundated by applications from more qualified candidates than they can admit. And the more selective institutions will be forced to make even finer distinctions between deserving students.

In particular, they will watch to see how you handle the pressure. Will you wilt under the weight of the added expectations? Will you find the easiest path to the “finish line”? Or will you step up to the challenge?

Colleges that can be picky are indeed watching. They want to see what you do when you don’t think you have to do anything. They want to see how you approach your classroom assignments. When a “B” seems good enough, will you continue to push for the “A”?

And admission officers at these colleges will be able to gauge your investment in your application immediately. Have you been thoughtful about conveying key messages? How have you told your story? What does your essay say about you? I can tell you from experience that applications and, in particular, essays that are pulled together at the last minute will have that “good enough” look about them.

You must ask yourself, then, “Do I want ‘good enough’ to represent me in the college application process—or in life, for that matter?” I wouldn’t if I were you, especially given what is at stake. By doing so, you are suggesting that you are willing to settle for something less than your best. And when your admission credentials have the look of “good enough,” you give the person reading them a reason to be dismissive of your application in favor of those that are more compelling—game over!

As a high school senior and an applicant to college, you are still in a position to control the manner in which your application is presented. Resist the temptation, then, to put things off or go into “cruise control.” Now is the time to accelerate! You must make that commitment, though. As one young woman observed after hearing this message at a recent program, “If nothing else, I have learned that good enough is never enough if I want to reach my goals.”





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