'It's Never Too Late' When It Comes to College (and Your Wildest Dreams)

12/08/2015 06:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The holiday season is officially upon us and many high school seniors are feeling anxious. The nervous tickle isn't from eager anticipation of the holidays. Most high school seniors haven't gotten into college and are feeling a combination of anticipation and angst. Some of you may feel discouraged. It feels like everybody around you has already gotten into college. But the reality is that only a very small percentage of high school seniors have gotten good news from colleges already. Before you think you are never going to get admitted to college or you're not going to get admitted somewhere "good," remember four words that will get you through the month of December, any fleeting New Year's resolution, and frankly, your entire life: IT'S NEVER TOO LATE.

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So, if you aren't admitted to exactly where you plan to attend college, here's what every high school senior should do before the ball drops at 12:00 a.m. on January 1st (or shortly thereafter):

1. For those who haven't applied...
Believe it or not, it's not too late to apply to college. Most private institutions have a Regular Decision deadline of January 1st. In fact, most students apply to college during this later round, and these colleges send out the bulk of their offers of admission through the Regular Decision process. Most public and state universities have a rolling admissions process. They will be filling their freshman class until it is full. While these public and state universities recommend applying in the fall when a student has a better chance of admission, plenty of students will get admitted in the coming months.

2. For those who haven't written your college essay...
It may sound counterintuitive, but it's not too late to write the best college essay right at this moment. In fact, the best essays I read every year are written by seniors late in the game. Why? Because your writing evolves from junior year and especially from the brain zap of the summer months. Those first few months of senior English can do wonders for a bright young mind. And, you are much more self-aware now. Essay topics tend to be about more meaningful things rather than the common topics that seem to just graze the surface of your teenage lives. There is also more clarity and organization to your essays because you probably had to write a few essays to prepare for and take the SATs or ACTs.

3. For those who got deferred from your first choice school...
It's not too late to increase your chances of getting admitted to your first choice school in Regular Decision. Give yourself a few weeks to process the deferral. Time will allow you to decide how much you really want that school. If you do, double-down. Reach out to the admissions officer who read your application and let them know you are still absolutely devoted to them, and if it's true, that you'll enroll if admitted in Regular Decision. Then write the best letter you've ever written. But remember #2 above--your writing has evolved and you are so much more self-aware than just a few months ago when you submitted that Early Decision or Early Action application. So, give that letter everything you've got and reiterate in the letter that you will enroll if admitted. That second part about reiterating that you'll enroll is key, as colleges don't like to admit students they're not sure will enroll. And, keep those grades up for the rest of the year. The combination of the most powerful, heartfelt letter about why you love the school that deferred you, with straight A's in a rigorous curriculum is pretty hard for any college to turn down. Make them think hard about your candidacy before a final decision is made.

4. For those of you who haven't visited any schools...
It's not too late to visit and show some "interest" to a few of the colleges you applied to. A growing number of private colleges and universities keep track of whether or not you visit their campus before or during the application process. They know that if a student visits their campus, they have a better chance of getting that student to enroll. For the colleges that factor in a student's "demonstrated interest," visiting their campus increases your chances of getting admitted. Even if a college doesn't track your visit, taking a campus tour can only help you figure out if it's a good fit. And, for the critics who say that college campuses look dead and abandoned in the winter months, I say that if you fall in love with a college on a cold, dreary day, you have found a perfect match.

5. For those of you who haven't performed as well as you want in high school...
It's never too late to turn things around and set your sights on what's next. Most community colleges have open enrollment with a high school diploma. Once you do well at community college, you can think about transferring to a four-year college. What you do in college (wherever you go) is much more important in the transfer process than anything you did in high school. Even the most selective colleges and universities, including Ivy League schools, admit high-achieving community college students into their programs every single year. I know this to be true because I read some of the most inspiring applications from community college transfer students when I worked for an Ivy League school.

I live by the motto: Never, never, never, never give up. I'm 40 years old and still use this as a motivator every single day of my life. The beauty of this saying is that it applies to the college application process, college itself, and the rest of our lives. We all have dreams--some of them are more far-fetched than others. But fulfillment starts when we take one step closer. College is the most important step toward social, financial, and educational mobility. It doesn't matter when you go or where you go to college. It's about going and finishing. And, no matter what anyone tells you, it's never too late for college and it's never too late to pursue your wildest dreams.