Surviving college acceptance season

Hey everybody. I'm dreading this upcoming March-April season of college decisions. I feel fairly sure that my kid will get admitted to at least one school and I need to just be happy with that outcome, or with the outcome that maybe my kid doesn't get accepted anyplace. I want to avoid feeling jealous about all these amazing schools where some of the other high school kids will get accepted. I know it's not cool to be jealous, so please -- no judgments. Please give your thoughts about effective parenting through this season and how to move through it.

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My best advice, having gone through this twice, is find an ally. Fine ONE parent either inside or outside (better if possible) your school community  who you trust who is also going through this. Talk ONLY to that person about this process. Ignore all social media!! It's really, really hard. These kids go through years of feeling like every misstep, mistake, less-than-perfect grade has doomed them. The perceived consequences of everything - especially their college acceptances  - seem monumental. So find your one trusted person and only share, talk, celebrate, commiserate with them. Ignore everyone else.

The other bit of advice I have is to understand that you just never know. I've gone through this from 2 very different high schools. I've seen some kids who were not exceptional students and felt bad about their one choice who went on to blossom and find their voice/purpose/love their school's opportunities. I've seen kids who are brilliant academically, went to their first choice, prestigious schools only to decide they hated it, left after a year and charted a different course: work for a year and transfer to a different school or take classes at a community college close to home and go on to transfer to a prestigious UC. These kids work so hard to get to the "finish line" of college acceptance and then realize that it's just the beginning of a new journey that might not turn out how they planned at all. Good luck!

It is awful. Truly awful. I have a college sophomore boy and a college frosh girl. It's usually not even about where your friends' kids are's about whether your kid gets into their top choice. There are so many options now for fallback that many of your kid's friends will be doing - I guarantee it. Community college isn't the pariah it once was in the over-achieving bay area anymore. In fact it's regarded as downright smart (it's always been a great option....perception has fortunately changed to recognize that). So for my son, whose grades were okay but ACT was terrific, we started having that conversation. He wasn't thrilled with the convo but ultimately recognized that the path to the UC he wanted was there. He did end up being accepted at the UC he wanted, but I'm not going to lie - it was a nail biter for me. Also - if your kid gets waitlisted somewhere that they really want to go, be sure to find out how they can "better their application." Some schools will absolutely give you the opportunity at that point to do, get a teacher's recommendation sent in, or include new grades that look better, or write a new essay, etc. EVERYTHING YOU READ will tell you that they won't get off the waitlist. I'm here to tell you that my girl did - by doing what I just told you. And finally, they're just gonna be moody through this time period. Everyone in your house is gonna be moody. It.truly.does.suck. Just recognize it but don't won't help. Hard to do...but you've got this!

Where you go is not who you'll be!" (to steal a line from Frank Bruni). Regardless of the outcome of the decisions that are coming soon, know that student success is what each student makes of their experience.

The following article by Frank Bruni can help put things in perspective.

It's perfectly natural to feel a pang of envy when other kids get into amazing schools -- or a pang of regret when kids who worked just as hard aren't admitted. However, the end goal is to have your child grow into a confident, self-motivated, independent adult, and there are a lot of ways to reach that goal. Getting admitted to an amazing school is an excellent first step. Four years from now, I guarantee you will know kids who thrived in great schools, kids who thrived in schools they weren't initially thrilled about, and kids who are taking a more circuitous path. That will continue as kids get out in the working world. I would encourage you to take the long view, and to let your kid know that you support them in their successes AND in their setbacks.

First, remember that college selection is up to your kid on which school(s) she/he wants to apply to.  Half the kids that apply to the top 10 schools won't get accepted and many will drop out even before the first year is up.  I let my kid make the decisions on which schools she wanted to apply to, as it is her life and her future career.  She applied to two (2) schools and was accepted at both.  She then decided where she wanted to attend and from there is a very happy camper.  I get the who being jealous thing, I was a first, but after having a long conversation with my kid about what would make her happy, I got over it very quickly.  Just remember, this is all about your child and what they want, not you.  Be proud of the fact that your kid is able to qualify for college, be part of the fun in the whole application process.  Get into the fun about their decision.  I know that my kid is in the best school for her chosen future profession and she is most happy where she it.  She attends SF State and its a great school.  She is a Jr there and having the best time.  Have fun with it.  But remember, its your kids decision and about what will make your kid happy.  Not what some other kid going to some fancy school that they may end up dropping out of or getting a degree in something that means nothing at the end.  I know too many of my kids former classmates who either dropped out of the fancy schools, did not get accepted to them or are working on a degree that has no application to the real world, meaning they will never make any money with that degree.  Good luck!

My son should be a senior this year. However, despite being smart and having friends in school, traditional school was not a good fit for him. At the end of his junior year, he passed the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) and we unenrolled him from school. He's now thriving in a full time job. He says he may or may not go to college. I did well in high school, graduating at the top of my class. I was accepted to every college I applied to and never considered not attending college after high school. At first it was very difficult for me to accept that my son chose a different path than I did. I was worried for him. I was disappointed. My own ego was bruised a little and I'll admit that I worried what other people might say. It was an unhappy place to be. Rather than continue feeling badly, I reframed how I thought about the situation. Instead of being disappointed that my son didn't graduate in the way I experienced school, I looked at in a different way. Interestingly, I then found myself feeling very proud of him. Rather than shuffle through a school system he didn't connect with, he finished early and is now really happy with his life. He is setting goals for his future and working hard. He's a joy to spend time with and has a strong network of friends. So many wonderful things to celebrate! (Rather than feel disappointed that he isn't going to college next year). My other realization is that my wants for him are MINE. However, it's not my life. What's truly important is what he wants and hopes for - not what I want and hope for him. I let go of my vision for his future and started talking to my son about what he wants his life to look like. I listened to what was important to him. As a result, he regularly engages with me when he's thinking about his future, including where he wants to live as an adult, what kind of jobs he wants, even if he wants to get married and have kids. He talks to me about his future and he seems to welcome my opinions. When I think about his future, I no longer imagine my hopes and dreams for him. They have been replaced by his actual hopes and dreams. So my advice is to make these next few months about your son - not you. If he gets accepted, ask him how he feels. If he gets rejected, ask him how he feels. If other students get accepted to great schools while he doesn't, ask him how he feels about it. You may find his feelings differ from yours. While you might feel envious of other's success, he may not. Maybe he might even feel excited for his friends. He might feel sad about seeing his friends go to different schools, while not caring at all about possible rejection. Once you better understand what's important to him, then you can support him. My other advice to all parents of teens is to give lots and lots of LOVE. Tell your son often what you like about him. Celebrate his success, no matter how small. These next few months, rather than worrying about what your son doesn't get, put your energy into showing your son how much you love him and discovering more about what he wants for his future. Good luck!

Hi, there! I so appreciate your thoughtful post; it is a very rough time, for sure - so many feelings of inadequacy, anticipation, elation, disappointment - and those are just for the parents! 

Last year we were riding the same rollercoaster - on both the giving and receiving end; our daughter didn't get in to her first pick - heartache! And did get into places which sent others into some very unattractive and inappropriate directions in their behavior. I want to share some wisdom that several parents shared with me, and which I was not fully able to appreciate until later: the "sorting hat" really knows what it's doing. Your kid (and you) may have your hearts set on one particular school, and it doesn't happen, and it's hard. What we don't know in the moment is that the "backup" school may turn out to offer things you never dreamed of, and actually be a better fit. One parent told me how their kid went to her dream school - but it didn't work out the way she planned; she didn't actually like it. She transferred, found a pathway and major that suited her better, and met her future husband to boot! Another set of parents told me about their son and his heartbreak over not getting into his top pick - but wound up loving life at #2; they think it was probably a better fit for him, too. He's now at graduate school at the same place; it clearly worked out really well. My own child had her heart set on a school which didn't happen for her, but she did get "#2" on her list; she's into her second semester now, and she LOVES it - she's so happy! We are in agreement that the #1 pick probably wouldn't have been as good a fit. The truth is, no matter how much homework we do on it, we really don't know past the surface what educational life would really be like there.

So, my advice to you is to share these things with your child, reassure them that they'll get in some place that will most likely make them very happy - maybe happier! and that if they don't like it they can transfer. Also, that in the long run, it won't make that big a difference. And know that this will be the same for you, too. There will be other people who likely feel envious of your kid and their choices. And hopefully everyone will try hard to be gracious to everyone else....

Hi there! Know you will get lots of responses. Been through this three times and Please, Please, Please be happy with whichever school your child gets accepted to/chooses. I am ashamed of how badly I handled the entire process. I was convinced my son had to go to a "name" school. He was class president, good grades, captain of sports team, lead in senior musical -- he didn't get in anywhere "competitive".  I was devastated. It was about "me" when it all should have been about him. I should have been positive, upbeat, "let's look at the alternatives!", etc. He did get in to a great school that could have been perfect for him. He transferred to that "name" school  (with prodding from me) and likely had a far less enjoyable college experience. Bottom line - all the schools are great, not going to school is great, taking a gap year is great.  Life is an adventure and being young is a gift.

4 year college is not a must.  Many successful adults did 2 years of community college before transferring to a top university and proceeding to higher education.  Find the right path for your family and don't worry about the Yees keeping up with the Smiths or Singhs.

Horrible time. Absolutely agree that we need other parents to talk to. Yet some (most?) will be so happy and relieved that their own kids got in somewhere that they won't be empathetic with others who are struggling! Especially agree with the suggestion to find one ally to talk to. Maybe better if they have already gone through it.

I wasn't an effective parent during this time for either one of my daughters. Hoping that my mistakes will help you somehow. 

First daughter: I thought her first choice school was not good enough for her and took her on a tour to experience lots of others. She identified a new first choice and then didn't get in. Thank God, she did get into her original top choice and has been very happy there. But she still has the disappointment about the other school, which I created unnecessarily. Why couldn't I have just let it alone? 

Second daughter: had no specific top choice but developed a strong favorite after visiting. Again I thought it wasn't good enough for her and pushed her to apply to others. After sending in her apps, she switched to early decision for the top choice and ended up withdrawing from all the others. My disappointment that we'll never know if she could have gotten in is finally what made me realize that I wasn't really ranking the best schools for *them* at all.  I just wanted bragging rights for myself!! How self-centered and ridiculous. Hats off to the younger daughter for bypassing all of that, whether she realized it or not. She is also happy, now. She had a too-easy first year and I again tried to push her to transfer, but thanks to advice from a much smarter mom, realized I needed to let go. Navigating the course levels and professors has been an excellent life experience for her. 

Lots of great articles out there on how the name brand of the school really doesn't do anything for the future of the individual kid. What really matters is how they handle the bureaucracy and the setbacks that inevitably show up. The challenges they experience and overcome ARE the education we want them to have!!

Maybe some larger perspective might help?  There are those of us out here whose children have disabilities that may well rule out any kind of college.  We parents had hopes and dreams too that our kids would achieve at least as much as we did in adulthood, then maybe adjusted our expectations to community college along the way. Then maybe had to adjust our expectations further to just hope for our kids to achieve some kind of independent living.  The advice of this high achieving, multiple degree (from the "top" schools) mother is:  count your blessings and be proud of what your kids achieve wherever they end up.  

I'm just echoing the message that college acceptance after HS is not the end of the road. My oldest never applied to 4 year colleges at all, struggled with cc on and off in an unmotivated fashion, then started working in construction and decided that's for him - he's now in a trades pre-apprenticeship program and will soon be a paid union apprentice, after which he will be making much more $ than me (I went to an Ivy and graduate school.) Son #2 didn't get in to the UC of his dreams, but is now guaranteed admission as a CC transfer and will be able to graduate from UC debt free because of the savings of attending CC.

I know some schools are encouraging students and parents not to post about college acceptances on social media until after it's all over (May 1?). I think this is a great move! You could talk to your kid's school about it, though I realize it may be too late. Also, you could just choose to stay off social media. And maybe you want to come up with a one-liner that you can repeat whenever you run into an acquaintance who tells you Ted got into Harvard, "Congratulations! I'm sure all the students are going to end up somewhere they can thrive." I think this is true too :) Or true to the extent that it is not about the school...

I went through this when my son would have been a senior in high school (except he had dropped out and was in a very dangerous spot with drugs). It was like salt in the wounds when I heard about all the successful students heading off to their first-choice colleges. Sadly, quite a few of them ended up having nervous breakdowns or just realizing they had made the wrong choice. So try to hold on to the long view.