A long time ago in a far away place—in my 20s and living overseas—I started my career in the for-profit world as a design assistant to a men’s fashion designer. It was in this job that I first learned how the designer generated the ideas for his clothing line from the world around him, with a special emphasis on taking inspiration from introspection, from his life experience, and from nature.
I have often thought of how deliberate and thoughtful he was in his choices. I also recall how he’d sometimes make a choice and then later remake that same choice based on his evolution of thought about how he wanted his design to manifest.
His selection of everything, from the lining, to the buttons, to the font on the tags, was representative of his choices, instincts and intuition. Seeing the many thoughtful decisions that went into the creation of just one article of clothing, I learned the truth of what Charles Eames said about design: “The details are not the details. They make the design."
Approaching College Decisions with a "Design Thinking" Attitude
Years ago, it became clear to me that the college admissions process was lacking a system for teaching students to get to know themselves and think of their internal world as the starting point in their college application decisions. It wasn’t until after I’d spent many years thinking about the process and what it lacked that I remembered what I’d learned many years before about design.
What Does Design Have to Do with College Decision-Making? More Than You Think!
When I say, “design,” I don't mean fancy designers, runways, or products on Fifth Avenue. Quite the contrary. I am referring to design as a way of thinking and as a creative act.
Let’s start with the standard definitions of “design." Design is:
A) A particular purpose held in view by an individual or group
B) Deliberative, purposive planning
The Purpose, Planning & Intention Behind Our Actions
Most folks think that the “purpose” of applying to college is to “get in.” But really, the college application experience in its highest form can and should be much more than that.
Unfortunately, not nearly enough students have any particular purpose beyond "getting in" when they complete their applications. Even worse, the current system does not encourage students who see their college admissions process as simply a starting point on their journey into adulthood. These future-focused students rarely receive the support they need to undertake “deliberative, purposive planning.”
Consider the noun version of the definition: “The purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.”
Without purpose, planning, and intention, students and other stakeholders can miss out on the most meaningful outcome of their college experience!
Tips & Methods for a Purpose-Driven Search
If you are a student, parent, coach, or mentor looking for an escape from the current madness of college admissions, you should check out Admissions by Design. You'll find a lot of great tips and research on unconventional, yet tested methods for finding the right college—with purpose.
The prevailing approach to college admissions is missing an important first step. Students should begin this process by looking inward rather than outward for the answers.
More often than not, when students dig inside themselves, they find the answers they seek as to how to set a true course for their lives.
A New Approach to College Admissions
Years ago, I began to experiment with a new approach to college admissions. I conducted extensive field research and developed a unique human-centered process — a purpose-driven process focused on empowering students to design their own experiences.
In my experiments, I saw how profoundly transformational this different way could be, both for me as a college admissions professional, for other counselors, and, most importantly, for students and their families. By turning inward, the steps of the path become illuminated. You then are able to design your way forward.
Why Eat Smoked Trout if You Know You Want an Apple?
Think of it this way: When you are a child, you eat what is put in front of you. But as you grow older, you begin to develop tastes and preferences and ask for particular things. Fast forward to life today, if you were in charge of making a meal for yourself, how would you go about it? You might ask yourself questions like these:
What am I hungry for?
What am I craving?
What would be satisfying to me?
What do I need to feel sustained?
It would be crazy to eat smoked trout if you want an apple (though it happens). To not step back and ask these same kind of questions when it comes to a decision like where you go to college is nuts! (Pun intended, of course.)
The college admissions process should be much more fulfilling than the checklist activity that it often is. We need a new approach!
Some Unconventional Answers
If you are a student, parent, coach, or mentor looking for an escape from the current madness of college admissions, you should check out Admissions by Design. You'll find a lot of great tips and research on unconventional, yet tested methods for finding the right college.
These methods do not fit into what traditionally may be deemed the “right” way to approach the process. But as I have implemented them, I have seen life breathed back into students and parents in the face of what otherwise is a difficult and confusing process and one that hardly acknowledges the humans at its center.