College Counseling as Scrooge During the December Decision Daze

“When will you know if you got into college?”

“3PM today!”

This is college admission 2020. 

Parents and students press record to save the moment.

Cue the texts: “DID YOU HEAR?” “ARE YOU IN?” “OMG I GOT IN DID YOU?”

I love the kiddos who push back. They turn their phones off. They take a nap. They schedule a night out and “forget” their phone. They take control of the narrative knowing full well that the decision is waiting for them just a few clicks away. I love it.

Of course it drives me nuts too. I can’t concentrate as I wait to hear from each applicant who applied to the college notifying that hour. My son is used to his mom going into an evening trance on December weekdays as she stares at the screen waiting for texts, emails and calls. He does not flinch when I jump up with a squeal, fist pumping the air screaming YES! As I pace, he may suggest that it is dinner time, and snap me back into mom mode. I really do try not to react. But he knows me. He sees tears forming as my face turns red. “Happy or sad?” he asks. “Happy” I respond. “Susie got in. I was so nervous about that one.” He knows their names. He knows their stories. It’s personal for both of us. 

I may have a roller coaster in my stomach, but families of applicants are often petrified waiting for a decision. It did not used to be this way when students were notified by snail mail. “I never got anything” or “The mail did not come today” gave the space to process the decision. 

I wish we could give ownership and privacy of the moment back to the applicant. If you read this far, maybe you will be open to a little advice :): 

*Wait until the applicant chooses to tell you the decision. If you are their parent, maybe give them an hour or two before you ask. The question could be, “Did you hear yet?” So much easier to respond to than “Did you get in?” which, even though it sounds the same, to an applicant may seem like it is assumed that they will and have failed if they don’t.

*Ask permission before you share the applicant’s news.  If they are not sure they are going to attend that college, perhaps wait to share until you know college choice.

*ADMIT YAY!  Congrats to the applicant! I usually say “Well deserved!” Sometimes, if we are talking a bit about the process I may also add, “You are the same person you were before you read that decision. Don’t forget that. Stay you.”

*Deferral UG! Confusing. “The college wants to admit you! They will let you know by April, but you do not have to wait for them!” Yes, you can send an update (just one please) in January about all the amazing things you have done since you applied and to underscore if the college remains a top choice.

*Deny Yuck. We do not like these. Remember, they are a denial of the application NOT the student. “This is not about you, it is about the needs of the college. You have not changed since you read that decision. Your future is in your control.” Now go have a backyard bonfire with all items from that college ;)–one of my favorite families did. The college decision video they sent–complete with flaming ivy sweats–was the best grin inducing college denial visual ever. (Same kiddo is now a law student at a more selective university.)

Parents usually wonder if they could have done something more. It may be the first time they could not help their child get what they want, but there was nothing more to be done. Colleges have institutional needs or buckets to fill. An admission office is in the business of fulfilling the targets of its bosses who control the budget, marketing, and strategic plan as defined by institutional interests. The context of the denial is a good reference. The Class of 2024’s admission information is often found most easily in the college’s newspaper and such articles can offer data driven answers.

My son was just Scrooge in his school’s play, and I probably should borrow his costume before I proclaim that, “An admission or denial does not change the worth of a student. Ever!” Applicants—who are mostly children—do NOT understand that. It is personal of course, and when they see their parents get upset, they often blame themselves. 

And then students escalate into darker thoughts. “I have no future.” Such a chilling statement to hear when a student recently received a denial. Yet he believes it. His parents do not, but the tears in his mother’s eyes as she said “He is such a good kid, what did we not do right?” translated as such to her son.

Children look to us to know how to react, especially in times of feeling lost. I should wear Scrooge’s spectacles at the office as I don’t cry, hug, scream or shout in front of my students. I try to stay direct and to the point to be an unwavering advocate and a rational fact giver. Of course, it’s easier for me, as I am not the parent, but parents have the most power to deescalate the impact of college decisions by reacting like it is the college’s loss and quickly moving on. *Away from the applicant, parents should ask questions, get answers, and let feelings out. Never fun to see one’s child upset or not reaching a goal that they worked so hard to attain. Those feelings are real. Just own them out of sight of the applicant. 

Perspective! Perspective! Perspective!”  I ask in my meanest Scrooge voice that we as adults each maintain perspective! The college process is not based solely on merit, it is flawed and college admission does not determine success. It is NOT the same process that applicants went through even five years ago. It is an attempt to quantify those we care about most, the children, our applicants—and one thing every adult knows—is that we can’t quantify the people we respect, much less the children we love. 

Celebrate the admits and move swiftly on from the denials. As the decisions keep rolling out, let’s keep our reactions to college admission decisions in check and our love for applicants on full display as we channel old Scrooge after he realized what was, and still is, most important in life.

©Eva McGregor Dodds

Published by instacollegecounselor

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