Some nerves are raw.  Some tensions are running deep.  Upper school seniors are eating a lot of candy — to celebrate and commiserate over news received from colleges.  This is the season when results start to materialize.  The way they talk, or don’t talk, to each other about the process is so interesting to me.  Close friends share details—where they have applied, what their scores and grades are, how much they want one school over another, what their families can or can’t afford—but in general, these 17-year-olds are pretty cagey about how things are going with their college admissions.

I have heard that some kids are so cautious about keeping their secrets (where they have applied, what their scores and grades are, how much they want one school over another, what their families can or can’t afford), that they actually lie about where they have applied, just to take the heat off.  (Something along the lines of, “If I apply to Harvard, but tell everyone I only applied to community college, then no one will think less of me when I don’t get in to Harvard.”)  This is something that I can understand, but cannot defend.  I understand that it might be embarrassing to a 17-year-old who has pinned hopes and dreams to an acceptance to get a rejection. But the true worth of that young person is not reflected in the acceptance or rejection; nevertheless, it can be demonstrated on the day after results are received.

We have spoken to Emily, our senior, about what she will do the day after she gets her ED (early decision) letter from her first choice school.  We know how important it is for her, to her.  And we are as hopeful as any expectant parents that all will be good for our child.  But more than that, we want Emily to hold her head up either way — to take the news gracefully.  This is a tall order, but we think she is equal to it.  All it requires is actually going to school the next day (something she has said she may not want to do if her news is no), and smiling at people — being truthful and thoughtful toward others who have also received important news from their first-choice schools.  If she receives good news, she can share it happily with those who will celebrate with her.  And if it is disappointing news, those same people would likely show her the compassion they would hope for if the shoe were on the other foot.  

We have to convince these kids, because it is true, that there is no shame in a letter of rejection! The admissions game is such an arbitrary process, and the outcome is frequently one part applicant, one part luck.  College admissions are not a measure of true value — rather, it’s more like a high-risk game of darts.  But bull’s-eye or not, our hope for our daughter, and her friends, is that they show up the day after their letters, heads held high, knowing that they are the same great people they were before these colleges ever heard their names.        

4 replies on “Heads Held High”

  1. “…high-risk game of darts.” I like that! Early Decision is a tough way to go, but if the applicant can stand the angst, it can be useful. At the other extreme are those, like one of my high school classmates, who can literally wallpaper one side of their room with “thin letters” (Dear student, Thank you for applying to our school. Unfortunately…” ). I recall at least two such contemporaries; one is now a US Congressman, the other a successful horse breeder. Either one is a few tax brackets above me. But I think we are all proud of what we have accomplished with the college education we received at our respective higher institutions.
    Since it appears that apples fall rather close to their trees, I’d say from what you have written that this student will handle herself well no matter what the letter says. Best of luck to you both.

  2. This is very insightful, good luck to your daughter. It is a time of angst, high hopes and a possibility of dreams come true. But you are absolutely correct when you say that no matter what the letter says, hold your head up high and know that you are the same wonderful person you were before that college ever heard your name! And who cares whether it’s a community college or a private institution, the education you receive is what you make of it!

  3. I really don’t get the point of Early Decision applications. Basically you’re making a commitment to one and only one school. For my daughter there are schools that look a little better or a little worse, but without knowing the whole financial aid packet, there’s no way she (or I) am ready to cut all the other schools out of the running. We did Early Action and one school had a rolling admission, so I’m not saying that we won’t know early about some of the schools on her list. I suppose JHU, with its free tuition for City School students was close to being her ED school, but honestly I want to see what all the schools have to offer us before we make a commitment.

    As far as the feeling about rejection – rejection sucks and who you want to share what with seems like a personal choice. It’s not like these choices are only about college applications. There are job applications and internships and the like in their futures. In the past there were SAT scores and report cards. It all seems pretty similar and how much and who you share what with, well, we all work on that skill our entire lives.

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