Dealing with the college admissions decisions

MailboxIf you are the parent of a senior, teach a senior, or have a friend who is a senior, you know that receiving college decisions can be a challenging time. As counselors we try to temper their anxiety by reassuring students it is going to be okay. Our students are unfailingly polite. They listen, they nod, but they really do not believe us. This reaction is to be expected. If you have ever looked for a job, put yourself out there in the dating world, or moved, you can relate to this unsettled feeling. It is challenging being in a gray area, especially for people who like to have a plan and know what is happening next. For seniors there is also a great deal of emotion tied to their applications. They have been told that the process is "holistic" which makes the decisions seem very personal.

I recently met with an admission representative at a small liberal arts college, who shared with me that he spends on average 13 minutes on an application. This is a school that is well funded and DOES conduct a thorough review of applications. However, in 13 minutes, I argue the decision cannot be personal. Colleges need to make swift decisions, and some students are bound to be disappointed. As people who care about students, what can we do to help with the anticipated disappointment a high school senior might feel when he or she receives the admissions decision?

Check your own bias, and how you refer to colleges. Are colleges "good" or simply more selective? Assure your senior that it will be OK no matter where they decide to attend. Remind them of people they know and admire who did not attend x, y, or z institution. Listen to Frank Bruni's book, Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be as you are driving around town with your student. They might not ask you to turn up the volume, but they are a captive audience, and his message may seep in.

One specific piece of advice from Frank Bruni's book is for parents to write a letter to their senior before they hear from admissions. I encourage you to take this recommendation and write a letter to your student letting them know why you think they are special and remarkable. Give this letter to your student before they receive their admission decisions. Students may not tell you this, but they are still looking for your approval. When students do learn their decisions, they are watching our reactions. Reassure them it is going to be fine. Let them wallow for a day and then help them to move on.

Please encourage your seniors to share the outcomes with the people who have written letters of recommendation for them, including their counselors. We are a part of their team, care about them, and as a result want to know about the decisions they receive. If it is happy news, we want to celebrate. If it is disappointing, we can help reassure them and make a plan to move forward. Let's partner together to temper some of the anxiety.

Jennifer Legg GabelJennifer has significant experience in both public and independent schools. For the past thirteen years, she has served as a School Counselor at Acton Boxborough Regional High School. In addition to managing her caseload, Jennifer is the counselor in charge of working with students on the autism spectrum. She is a member of NEACAC and NACAC and currently serves on Faculty of the NEACAC Summer Institute. Prior to her work at A.B, Jennifer was an Associate Director of Admissions at Holderness School and Santa Catalina School. She has a B.A. from Rollins College where she received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for philanthropy and the Marion Folsom Award for excellence from the English Department. Jennifer received her Ed.M. in Counseling from Boston University.