High-agency working environments motivate students to own the college application process


I help students organize and manage the college application process.

I’m always a bit surprised when a student, even when provided clear instructions from colleges, and on top of those guidelines an outline of what do to complete required tasks crafted specifically for them by me, acts completely helpless.

I introduce organizational tools, send lots of reminders, and provide emotional support during what is a stressful time, but students need to take the initiative and act on it for these supports to be put to best use. In 10 Tips for Developing Student Agency, Tom Vander Ark states, “agency is the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness.” Hitlin and Elder, in their work on the concept of agency, suggest four overlapping conceptions of agency, the fourth being particularly relevant as it pertains to the college admissions process:

  • Existential agency: The capacity, or free will, for exerting influence on our environments.
  • Programmatic agency: Following rules and routines.
  • Identify agency: What we believe about ourselves and the ways that we wish to be perceived by others.
  • Life-course agency: Actions that we take to affect future outcomes.

Student’s actions, or inaction, affect future outcomes—and this is especially true as it pertains to applying to college. They need to write their essays, fill in their applications, and submit them on time—they need to own their role in the process!

I hope the relationships I create with my students during the college counseling process result in a high-agency working environment, motivating them to take ownership of the process, while at the same time knowing they have a caring adult to support them every step of the way.

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