Perfectionism and the College Application Process

Perfectionism and the College Application Process

Perfectionism and applying to college don’t mix! 

A quote from Angela Duckworth exemplifies precisely why:

Perfectionistic people work hard but unsustainably so. They often find themselves in the sapping zone of diminishing and inverse returns to their efforts.

We work with many students who have perfectionist tendencies. These students spend extreme amounts of time focusing on aspects of the college process that have little to no ROI. We see this in parents, too! 

There is no such thing as a perfect college application because there is no such thing as a perfect applicant. 

Our work also highlights another one of her sentiments: perfectionists tend to self-sabotage because they retreat when things get tough or they sense imminent “failure” instead of reaching out for help. This one always gets us because we exist to help. 

Perfectionists are world champions at self-sabotage. When things get tough, when it looks like failure is heading their way, the anticipated shame and embarrassment are so fierce that perfectionistic people are reluctant to put forth any further effort that might allow others to discover their shortcomings. So, they procrastinate or simply give up to ward off fears of failure.

Perfectionism doesn’t lead to success. It’s also exhausting. If you struggle with it, seek out help before you get too deep into your college app journey—students and parents! 

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Conquer the Common App: Additional Information Section Advice

Georgia Tech’s admissions blog is quickly becoming one of my new favorites. You can read the full post “WHAT THE…?!,” but I wanted to include just the end of it below. Many applicants want to try to include information in the Additional Info section of the Common App (and other apps), but it is not always appropriate. That section is not there to explain something they won’t care much about (why you dropped a club senior year that is not a significant part of your profile), or to include an extra essay or piece of creative writing (you can do this on many portals AFTER you apply), or to paste in your full resume (warning: this never works with the simple formatting of the CA and other apps so please do not do this). See part of Rick Clark‘s article below for what I agree is appropriate:

Significant Life Events

You had mono as a junior and missed the first two months of school. Your parents’ divorce was finalized in the summer before senior year but the end of eleventh grade was filled with turmoil. You moved three times during high school due to a parent’s job transfer, promotion, or loss. These are just some of the examples we see in this section. Readers appreciate the perspective you can provide and they will make notes or highlight pertinent pieces they believe are relevant to their review and admissions decision, especially as it relates to overcoming challenges, persevering, or demonstrating tenacity/grit. In some cases, this information may lead them to add to or revise their notes from prior sections.

Academic Context

Readers want to know if your schedule choices were impacted during high school. Are some courses only offered at certain times? Was a class you had hoped to take canceled due to low enrollment? If you moved multiple times during high school, readers will see that on your transcript, but you also have an opportunity to tell them what impact that may have had. If your move precluded you from being able to take a certain course or begin on a particular curricular track upon arriving at your new school, feel free to elaborate in this space.

Additional Activities

There are times when the activity section is too limited in space for you to demonstrate the extent to which you contributed. Often this surrounds a business you started, a fundraiser you need to provide more details about, or additional levels of achievement from an activity you listed earlier in the application. Remember, this is “additional” for you—and to an extent it is additional for admission committees. HINT: Put your strongest, most compelling information FIRST in the activity section. Do not intentionally bleed over into additional information unless it is absolutely essential to convey the depth of your work or time.

Still unsure?

Ask your school counselor for their advice. See what their experience has been in the past with students who have used this section. You can also simply call or email the school you are applying to and ask them for their advice.

This is a section about necessary whys or what else—not the place for another essay. Instead, readers evaluate this section looking for pieces of information that provide valuable context (inside or outside the classroom) that you cannot convey elsewhere. Do not over think it! If you believe you have something noteworthy to add, then use this section. Readers will incorporate what they deem helpful and dismiss what they do not. It is as simple as that. It will not hurt you if you do not complete this section (again, most students do not), or if you include something that is deemed irrelevant.

It is called “extra” or “special” because it is not standard. Readers will not combine those two words in their head and assume any applicant completing this section is “extra special.”


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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.