Just Older, No Wiser: College Admissions the Second Time Around

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As it turns out, we learned nothing last year.  I was hoping we would have gained some insights from having watched our oldest trudge through Senior year, trying to figure out where to apply, how to position herself, which side to feature, to get into the school of her choice.  Unfortunately, it seems, we are just a year older.  No wiser.

Some people say we remember smells better than other things – visual images, sounds.  I think we remember emotions the best.  I vividly remember how it felt when Emily found out she didn’t get into her first choice school last year.  She was completely deflated, sucker-punched.  We had the parent version of that emotional experience – shock, disbelief, disappointment, and then anger.  How could they have rejected her?  She’s so awesome!  Now, this year, our second child, Grace, is still waiting on early decision letters.  But last week, we got a little preview into the gut-wrenching turmoil that the next few months are sure to deliver.  And the bile of last year’s anxiety rose in my throat.

One afternoon last week, Grace texted to say her classmate, “Annie,” had gotten into Grace’s first choice school.  I texted back, “Congrats to Annie!,” trying desperately to keep my cool, and show my daughter an appropriately gracious response.  But Grace is (reasonably) afraid that the college, which is highly selective, won’t have room for 2 kids from the same high school.  Now, this is the first wave of early responses, and we really don’t want to work ourselves into a pitch this early in the admissions season.  But honestly, there was no avoiding some kind of reaction.  Even without knowing if Grace will get in, we escalated.  Why did Annie hear before the others?  How could she get in before Grace, who has better grades, better SATs?  Does Annie’s admission mean Grace doesn’t have a chance?  We couldn’t help but resent the facts that Annie’s got legacy, generous legacy, at the college; and that she is a three-season athlete.

But we were embarrassed.  Seriously, shouldn’t we have learned something from all the angst of last year?  Shouldn’t we know something that neophytes don’t?  I’m afraid it might be like this for each of our four kids – which is a truly exhausting idea.  Yet all parents know this to be true:  We are only ever as happy as our least happy child.  Their emotions sway ours.  So, while we were hoping to be smarter, to know the ins and outs of the game, we forgot one important piece.  For our seniors and ourselves, it isn’t always IQ that matters.  In these days of hopes and fears, we need to be looking to our EQ to pave the way.

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