It's that time of the year when NCAA basketball fans break down their brackets and high school seniors and their parents lose sleep over the potential rejection and acceptance letters from their dream schools. A lot of folks have a lot of advice when it comes to dealing with this entire process and settling fears. At this point, about all that's left to do is hope for the best and support your student as they either enthusiastically rip open the packets, or slowly peel back the envelopes like Charlie Bucket hoping to find a coveted Golden Ticket for entrance into Wonka's Chocolate factory.
Frank Bruni's 2015 OP-ED in The New York Times, "How to Survive the College Admissions Madness" gives a sensible approach to the most difficult part of this process: the waiting. And, likely, the next most difficult part: attempting to help your student move past the rejections. And there will be rejections for many. Bruni's most significant point in "survival" is that there is more than one way to achieve your goals and your dreams of success in college. That way just may be a different route than any of you expected or anticipated.
As seasoned adults, we all know the beauty of hindsight, and, like anything else in raising our children, we understand that they must learn their lessons like the rest of us did when we were coming up- on our own. With our choices. On our terms. Preferably without our parents hovering over us in their helicopters. Although I am an editor, I frequently assist my clients (mostly the parents) who ask for information and advice about more than the essays. It is not easy telling proud parents that the business of college applications is just that: a business. Make no mistake about the competition. Whereas your student may be used to being a big fish in a little pond, the pond gets bigger and the fish more plentiful at the next level. It can be a painful reality for most of us.
I've worked with some of the brightest, well-rounded students who look college-perfect in their test scores, GPAs, essays, and extracurriculars. They have every box checked for their dream school. But there are factors that go into the selection process that cannot always be explained or understood. I will be gently blunt when I say the fight is not necessarily a fair one. Especially if your applications and your dreams are headed to the Ivies and other top tier schools. You will be competing with legacies, donors, National Merit Scholars, and Early Action applicants, as well as scholarship and non-scholarship athletes- all of whom will be considered before mainstream applicants.
Then there are the mystery boxes that none of us know anything about. The ones that change from year to year, and are dependent on each university's needs. Maybe you've never heard about these boxes. You know how Starbucks, Arby's, and In-N-Out Burger have secret menus from which you can order? Same thing, but with your students' futures instead of food. Last year School A may have had to fill a need for female/out-of-state/Biomedical Engineer majors who are minoring in Computer Science, but this year they have an influx from these particular candidates. Part of this process is, indeed, a crapshoot. There seems to be no logical explanation or understanding.
Apart from what is not in a candidate's control, some factors that are will contribute to acceptance:
You've done the work. You've put in your share of blood, sweat, and tears. It's time to pat yourself on the back and wait to make plans or move on to Plan B. Many things will define you throughout your life. Your alma mater will prove to be a part of the whole rather than the entirety of you.
It's going to be okay.