The college admissions process may be incredibly stressful for the students awaiting life-changing news. However, let’s not forget how challenging the process is for the parents of college hopefuls. We asked parents and experts – and in some cases, both – who have been through the process to offer their advice to our readers.
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Peter A. Gudmundsson from the Dropout & Truancy Prevention Network, says, “The key to managing the college admission process as a parent is staying calm – do not give in to hysterics – and emphasizing that this is about choices and not destiny.”
Gudmundsson, whose daughter is a freshman at Yale, believes parents need to get educated about the process in order to best support their children. “College admission is a great way to model behaviors that your child should use throughout life: managing disappointment and success, doing research, attention to detail, etc.”
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Dee Kane was actually relieved when her daughter got a rejection letter from her “stretch” school.
“I was imagining her on a treadmill running as fast as she could, just to keep up with the “average” students at that school,” she explains. “She would be working overtime while the rest of the students were having a wonderful college experience.”
Kane’s daughter ended up at Southern Methodist University, where she was near the top of her class.
“This enabled her to take on a leadership position right away, hold a job in her area of interest, study abroad, secure summer and winter internships at cutting edge companies in her chosen field [and more]. She has had an exciting college experience, which will get her where she wants to go when she graduates.”
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Dr. John Duffy, clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, has helped many families through the anxiety-ridden maze of college application, acceptance and rejection over the last 15 years.
“I find that this process goes most smoothly when parents keep their own anxiety about the process in check, so that they can be more present and available to their already-anxious child,” he believes. “One of my favorite stories involved a family that had been University of Michigan through-and-through. Both Mom and Dad had attended Michigan (both undergrad and law school for Dad), and an older brother was a sophomore there. My client, a girl graduating from high school, was wait-listed and eventually rejected from Michigan. She chose to attend her (very distant) second choice, arch-rival Michigan State.”
The student was bitterly disappointed.
“The weekend after she made her choice, her parents threw her a rather large surprise party,” Duffy continues. “They wore Michigan State green that night for the first time in their lives, and the guests wore the same. MSU stickers adorned the bumpers of the cars, and the coffee cups. This total show of support allowed this girl to celebrate her school, instead of feeling disappointed. She’s currently a sophomore at MSU, and loves it.”
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Carol Barash, Story to College, is a vet at the college application process. Her older daughter – a senior at Princeton - did not get accepted there until after three rejections and four waitlists. Her youngest daughter, a senior in high school, is going through the process now.
Her advice is really just good sense.
“You need to love them – every ounce of them – whatever the outcome,” Barash says. “They will take their cues from you, so be ready to be genuinely happy and curious about what is possible for them. Help them embrace what is positive and available and real. If they are disappointed – or worse – gently teach them endurance and resilience, which are vital life lessons.”
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Also, as admissions correspondence via email becomes more common …
“Stop checking the mailbox,” says Iris Shaffer. “The acceptance/rejection information gets to your child via e-mail, so they find out first. I spent weeks checking my mailbox daily until I realized my son – who is currently attending University of Wisconsin – Madison – would know before I did.”
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One final thought from independent education consultant Jolyn Brand, Brand College Consulting, who has a son currently going through the “waiting game.”
“I encourage the parents to celebrate every college acceptance letter,” she says. “Take the student to his or her favorite restaurant or just a “Congrats!” card
will do the trick.”
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Parents, how are you dealing with college admissions stress? What tips do you have to share? Share your recommendations in the comments or email The Explorer Blog.