What to do about those looming deadlines?

As someone who has been working in admissions for nearly three decades, I have noticed a steady change in the way students perceive deadlines—especially these days. “Apply by November 1” did not used to mean “wait until 11:55 PM on October 31 to hit the magic submit button.”

But oh, the times they are a-changin’ (I’ll save my theories on this for another day). For many students, deadlines are not the last day to submit the application—they are the only day to submit the application. Not a minute, or hour, or day before. (Let’s not even go down the road of a week or month before).

I lived this phenomenon not too long ago with my middle child. For the most part, he had embraced the process. He spent some time investigating “good fit” schools, visiting campuses, listening to admissions officers extol the virtues of the school they represent, and pared his list to those he felt were worthy of an application.

And then…
And then…
And then…

Well that’s when rubber hit the road in my mom world.

I frequently found myself asking – usually as he was watching Sunday football or late-night SportsCenter – “When do you think you might want to start working on your college applications?” This question usually elicited one of the following (wonderfully verbose) responses:

“When they’re due.”


“When I’m ready.”

I countered with some award-winning questions myself:

“Do you know when they’re due?”

“What does ‘soon’ mean?”

“When do you think you will be ready?”

The conversation usually ended there. So, I spent weeks encouraging, cajoling, nagging and yes, at times, raising my voice (OK, yelling); still no movement toward the college application websites. I went through ALL my “internal mom rationalizations.”

Maybe if I stop asking, he’ll actually work on them. (Reverse psychology)

Maybe he’s silently trying to tell us he’s not ready to go to college. (Oh, really?!)

Maybe I just need to be patient and let him figure this out for himself. (But this might bring about my early retirement from motherhood, if you know what I mean.).

In the end, this is how it unfolded in my house with my middle child:

The primary application deadline happened to be on a Saturday (not great timing, in my opinion). My son played his final high school football game on Friday night. Sadly, it was a colossal play-off loss for my son’s team. At noon on Saturday, he was still sleeping. At 2 PM, his bedroom door opened and he found his way to the family room and SportsCenter. It really was more than I could take. And so, at this critical juncture, I left the house – just walked away.

I spent the next several hours walking the dog, running every errand I could think of, and pruning bushes in my yard–and then my neighbor’s.

When I finally did come home, the applications had been submitted.

“What?! You mean you actually submitted them? Who proofed your essay? Who double checked your work?”

His answer shocked me: “No one; this is my process. Haven’t I often overheard you say to the prospective parents you work with that this needs to be their child’s journey?! You’re certainly welcome to read my essay now if you’d like.”

I nearly knocked him over getting to the computer. I tried to remember if there was any way to un-submit, fix errors, and then re-submit a college application.

Until I read it.

And he took my breath away… and—yes—brought me to tears. (Full disclosure: tears come easy for me, but these were legit.) His essay almost caused me to ask, “Who wrote this for you?”

The topic was simple: his last high school football game. The content was spot-on and moving. As an admissions officer, I would have loved reading this essay! As a mom, I couldn’t have been prouder.

While I (like many parents) might have some micro-managing tendencies when it comes to my children, I had to take a big step back and realize that possibly, that football game had to happen, and the application deadline had to be looming for the submission to actually (finally!) happen.

Knowing what I know now, would I have handled this any differently?

I like to think I would nag less, trust more, and embrace the “last minute” for the good work it can often produce. I would encourage parents new to this process to do the same—including walking dogs, running errands and pruning bushes (your own and your neighbors’). The deadlines will come and they will pass, and in all likelihood, students will submit their applications.

Happy Deadline Days!

Carin Smith
Lawrence University Regional Admission Director

6 thoughts on “What to do about those looming deadlines?”

  1. Thanks for writing this and letting me know I am not alone in my feelings of anxiety at this college application road. This is my second time in this rodeo and while my daughter #2 is less of a procrastinator, it has been just as much of a roller coaster (and I hate roller coasters!). She started on her application over the summer (yeah, wow, I’m impressed), then it stalled and became a nag-fest, stop and start as school took over. New colleges have been added to the list (?!) that were never in the picture before but are now topping the list.
    I am now mentally counting the days until the deadlines and know it will all get done and will get outside and prune the neighborhood bushes to keep my desire to nag at bay!

  2. There are so many clever things I want to say. But truthfully, “thank you” is what I feel. Thank you, thank you. And thank you again.

  3. Thank your for sharing your personal experience — it really hit home. Not the football part, but everything else. As the mother of a senior girl and my first time role as a college application cheerleader (nagger), this helped keep things in perspective. I will let it be her process. Time to go prune some bushes.

  4. Thank you Carin! As a parent of a senior and first child to apply to college, I hear you. Our first born isn’t a procrastinator, just supremely busy. She stays calm– I am experiencing shortness of breath (just kidding–kind of). We are trying to have faith that she will wind up where she is meant to be. You are doing this for the third time and still have your sense of humor! Good for you.

    1. Teresa,

      Can I suggest deep breaths – not short breaths! I think you’ll be very surprised at how lovely the process ends up being when it’s all said an done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.