How to Work With Overly Ambitious Students

Check out these helpful tips for working with “type A” students who work themselves to the bone during college admissions.

By Ashley Henshaw | February 17, 2017

Help ambitious students to be more practical about their college search by first establishing a few criteria, such as location, size and an intended major.
Photo: Thinkstock

Do you have some students who go a bit overboard when it comes to college preparation? Sometimes identified as overachievers or “type A” personalities, students like these have the potential to burn out early when they immerse themselves in every school project or extracurricular activity. Meanwhile, some focus too hard on being the perfect college admissions candidate rather than simply being themselves. As a counselor, the following tips will help you work with these gifted and ambitious students to strike a more balanced approach.

The first step to help an overly ambitious student is to help them simplify their goals and objectives.

Scaling Back

The first step to help overly ambitious students is to help them simplify their goals and objectives. For these students, their desire to have the choice to get into any school could actually limit their prospects due to a lack of focus in specific areas.

According to college admissions consultant and MBA Admissions Coach founder Wendy Flynn, “Students can easily become overwhelmed in preparing for the admissions process, whether it is getting involved in too many activities to build an impressive resume, or immersing themselves in the search for information about prospective colleges. It's important to keep these students focused on the primary objective.”

Start with college goals. Researching colleges can become an obsession for ambitious students. Help them to be more practical about their search by first establishing a few criteria, such as location, size and an intended major. A self-assessment tool may be useful for discerning what types of schools the student should be researching.

Some students may also need to scale back on extracurricular activities. “It’s not necessary for them to be involved in every activity,” says Flynn. “In fact, to be deeply involved in a handful of activities is more impressive than to be involved in everything.”

Be Realistic

A student’s focus on getting into the “perfect college” should be a red flag to any counselor. Though these students often perform well academically and will not struggle to get into a good school, their obsession with perfectionism can backfire.

For counselors, one important facet of helping an overly ambitious student is to create more realistic and balanced expectations for the college admissions process. According to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, “In terms of emotional stress, perfectionism is seen to cause feelings of worthlessness and depression when gifted individuals fail to live up to unrealistic expectations.” Help these students understand that they are not failures if they don’t get into an Ivy League school. Additionally, these students may need to be more realistic by applying to a couple of back-up schools in case their ideal college plans don’t pan out.

For counselors, one important facet of helping an overly ambitious student is to create more realistic and balanced expectations for the college admissions process.
Photo: Thinkstock

Hone in on Individual Interests

Students who are exceptionally ambitious about college may have read one too many guides to getting into their dream school, leaving them with a laundry list of expectations to meet. It’s also important to help these students find joy and purpose in their actions beyond simply checking a goal off of their list.

The Davidson Institute asserts that “Perfectionists may also decrease their enjoyment in life by focusing on unmet goals, things that still need to be accomplished, rather than savoring accomplishments.” Encourage students to participate in activities that allow them to have fun and focus on their passions, rather than only those that will look the best on a college application. This helps them to relish their experiences for what they are instead of solely focusing on how they’re helping their college prospects.

The American School Counselor Association suggests that counselors “further address their needs individually through formal career development activities including interest and values inventories, job shadowing and world-of-work exploration. Because gifted and talented students often have abilities in many areas, providing experiential activities where they can gain firsthand knowledge of various careers helps them narrow down future choices based on interests and training rather than solely on abilities.” Helping this type of student identify and explore their individual interests will ultimately benefit their college applications and their self-esteem.

Assess Parental Involvement

Overly ambitious students may benefit from a parent who can help them to reassess their college goals and be more realistic about expectations. However, working with parents can also bring a new set of challenges for a counselor. As Flynn points out, “It may not just be the student who is overly ambitious. Helicopter parents may be the driving force behind this ambition.”

Counselors can serve as a reality check for students and parents without putting a damper on the excitement about college. Explain that the student can have a wonderful, fulfilling college experience at a number of different schools – there is no “perfect” school. “While it can be difficult,” says Flynn, “it’s important to get students and parents on the same page.”

Students with big ambitions can often place high expectations on themselves during the college admissions process. Using the tips listed here will help these students find their passions and form more realistic expectations that will lead them toward the right college match.

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