The Best Laid Plans

by · March 5, 2019

By Dan Fenyo

Bill Evans, famed jazz pianist of the Miles Davis sextet, wrote an outstanding article that was featured within the liner notes of Davis’ iconic album Kind of Blue entitled “Improvisation in Jazz.” The article itself is a terribly insightful read, but you’re currently busy reading MY article, so I don’t want to let Evans steal all my spotlight for now. For now, I want to draw your attention to the opening of Evans’ commentary:

“There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke with destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way the deliberation cannot interfere.”

You may be asking yourself how jazz improvisation, Japanese art, and college admissions are related about now. Well, today I want to talk about planning for college and, more specifically, what to do when those plans go wrong. Navigating the choppy waters of college admission isn’t easy and frankly, if everybody could do it as well as Bill Evans and Miles Davis could improvise jazz music, I might be out of a job! It’s natural for you and your child’s plans to go awry. Sour notes and torn parchment are all a part of the process but, as we approach nearer and nearer to the enrollment deadlines of many colleges, it’s time to start thinking about what to do when things aren’t going according to plan.

What sort of things can go wrong in college admissions, you might ask. Well, there are a few common ones:

  • Rejection: It’s an unfortunate reality that many students get rejected from some portion of the schools they apply to. It’s important for them to identify their “reach” schools (colleges that might have slightly higher academic requirements), “target” schools (colleges that look for students exactly like your child), and “safety” schools (colleges which are more-than-likely to offer admission).
  • Second thoughts: Your student got accepted to their dream school but suddenly, it’s not looking quite so dreamy. After visiting a few times and learning more about the campus, maybe they’re having second thoughts about their first choice.
  • Affordability: College can be expensive, but for some families, realizing just how expensive it can be might be a shock. If you crunch the numbers and tuition simply isn’t within the realm of possibilities, it might be time for Plan B.
  • Life happens: Unfortunately, life is riddled with setbacks both major and minor. A family move might turn your student’s 5 minute commute to campus into a 5 hour plane trip across the country. A sudden high school breakup could compel your child to rethink enrolling at their ex-sweetheart’s future alma mater. No matter the case, we have to be prepared for the fickle rhythm of life.

So what happens next? First off, don’t panic! Oftentimes, when students find their college plans thrown into chaos, they’ll turn to their parents for guidance. It might be up to you to take the wheel and chart a course for Plan B. Obviously, the easiest solution for most students is to look at their “safety” schools and determine which among them is the best fit. Of course, there are some students who simply don’t apply to multiple colleges; they’re convinced that College A is going to be absolutely perfect so they don’t bother researching or applying to Colleges B, C, and D. In cases like this, it’s a little more urgent to start looking at other options. Depending on the time of year, certain college application periods might be closed for the season. Look out for colleges (like the Mount) that offer rolling admission. These schools will review applications as they’re submitted and return their admission decisions as quickly as possible, no matter the time of year.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the dreaded gap year. If college plans suddenly change, it might be worthwhile for your child to consider waiting a semester (or a full year) to begin applying to colleges again. Obviously, this tactic has a variety of pros and cons, which we’ll talk about later this week!

Did you college plans work out? How about your child’s? What do you think about taking a gap year between high school and college? Let me know what you think on Facebook and Instagram!


Daniel Fenyo has been an admissions counselor at the Mount since September 2018. A lifelong Hudson Valley resident, he enjoys reading, writing, and all things nerdy in his free time.

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