Great Expectations

Remember when you were little and the anticipation for the holiday season was almost too much to bear? Everything was building towards that one moment and it seemed like it was all anyone could talk about. It was sensory overload. To some extent this is how high school seniors feel as they wait for their college admissions decisions. It can be excruciating. The anticipation is further stoked because our society is blurring the lines between what is public and private information and our students are increasingly living out every moment of their lives online.  Did it even happen if they didn’t Snapchat or post about it on Instagram? I’m a firm believer that the college admissions process should be a journey that students (and their families) take on their own terms and in their own way and, preferably, not in a public forum. That means students have to push away the outside noise and focus on what really matters to them. This isn’t easy for teenagers.

That struggle is most intense when college decisions are announced.  Most colleges release admissions decisions online before, or even rather than, sending an official letter. Therefore, instead of waiting for the mailman, students are waiting for an update on their application portal. While there are a lot of advantages to the online delivery system, the biggest downside I see is that the internet is everywhere. Students don’t need to be at home when they check their admissions status because they can connect to their portal from their phone. Therefore, students can be in public when they have to process that news. While I think our students are used to living their lives more publicly, it still can be really difficult to handle an admissions rejection in front of friends.

So what can we do to tone down the frenzy and help students process the decisions they are about to receive?

  • For starters, we can help students understand that the admissions process is not a reflection on the student’s “worthiness.” In fact, at selective institutions, most students are worthy of admission. Most students are academically capable of achieving great success at the colleges in which they apply. Therefore, the application admission process is more accurately a reflection of the institution’s desire to create an incoming class of students that satisfies its needs. For instance, the admissions office might be encouraged to admit more students from a specific geographic region. As much as your student might beg you to move to North Dakota, most likely that isn’t going to happen. There are so many factors that students can’t control, therefore, it is important to remind our students that the admissions decision isn’t all about them.


  • Students should make an effort to be at home when reading an admissions decision. This privacy gives students the space they need to express their emotions. They can jump for joy without worrying if their friend didn’t get good news.


  • It is ok to take some time when dealing with a disappointing decision. Process the decision (eat ice cream, scream and cry into a pillow, go to the gym or the movies), and then, when it is time, shift the focus back to something positive.


  • This time of year, we frequently spend time with family we don’t see on a regular basis. When relatives ask about the college admissions process, we can give our students an out and offer them advice about how to make small talk about their college applications. Try this: “I think I’m going to have great choices, but I haven’t heard back from all of my schools yet, so I’d rather not talk specifics. I’m excited about college and when I make my decision I’ll be happy to talk to you about it.”


Just because the release of admissions decisions coincides with the holiday season (and beyond - hang in there, this process lasts until the end of March), doesn’t mean that students should make a college admissions advent calendar to count down to the big moment. In fact, it would be better if students focused on what really matters this time of year: family and friends.  Enjoy the holiday season!