College Applications and My Mom

When I was applying to college, I thought I had it bad. My mother wouldn’t leave me alone. Everywhere I went, she would follow – and with her would follow a string of “helpful reminders” about the importance of college applications.

At first, I only had to worry about my early decision application to Harvard. This seemed painful and tedious, but I managed to keep a bright perspective by reminding myself that it would all be over soon. “One and done” was my personal motto.

Sadly, I was wrong. Early decision turned into deferral, and suddenly my hoop dreams of writing a single application exploded into a long list of safety schools, reach schools, and everything in-between. My mother’s “helpful reminders” grew in equal proportion to my applications. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

At the time, I wasn’t sure that my relationship with my mom could survive the next several months. It felt like she was torturing me, and I didn’t understand why. This was my life, my college education, and my choice. Why couldn’t I do this on my own? The answer was simple, but it took me years to understand: I was an idiot.

I was a 17-year-old idiot who didn’t know the first thing about the world, or the importance of these applications. I assumed that the admissions process was a fair and intelligent system. That strong applicants didn’t need to spend an eternity working on their applications because their strengths were self-evident. Had I been left to my own devices, I might very well have never ended up at a top college.

Five years later, when I applied to law school, I had learned my lesson. My mom didn’t need to tell me how important these applications were – I already knew. She didn’t need to create a schedule for me, beg me to work on my applications every day, or  correct my personal statements – because I had already done it. And I did it again when I applied for jobs, and I will continue doing it for the rest of my life.

The lessons rendered by my mother’s relentless efforts boiled down to this: applications – no less than applicants’ achievements, experiences, and actions – are tremendously important. The value of perfecting an application is not only that you increase your chances of success; it is also that you inculcate invaluable experience and skills which will serve you the rest of your life.

Parents loathe to involve themselves in their children’s college applications should think long and hard about their son or daughter. At the time, I couldn’t have been more angry or resistant to my mother’s help. Today, I could not be more grateful.

About the Author


Joel Butterly, Co-founder and CEO of InGenius Prep, is an experienced admissions counselor and entrepreneur. Joel comes from a rich educational background—his immediate family alone has 14 Ivy League Degrees—from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Dartmouth.

Joel attended Dartmouth College, where he studied Government, Geography, and the Philosophy of Ethics. He was inducted early into Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. He graduated with a double major in Government and International Studies, and a minor in Ethical Philosophy.

After Dartmouth, Joel attended Yale Law School, where he served on the executive board of the Journal on Regulation, as well as the Law School’s entrepreneurship society.

Joel currently resides at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. He lives with his fiance – Emily – who teaches and is receiving her PhD in Medieval History from Yale.