THE BLOG

Secret Holiday Wish List for Parents of College Applicants

12/28/2012 02:53 pm ET | Updated Feb 27, 2013

Every December, the admissions office at the typical American university transforms into Santa's workshop -- complete with elves rushing to finish presents for those lucky high school seniors on their list. Now that the gifts have been delivered, via sleigh, post or email, I want to share a secret wish list I have gathered from conversations with parents, guidance counselors and educational consultants over the past year.

Parents of college applicants get a bad rap, almost as bad as those stage parents on Toddlers and Tiaras. It's a bit unfair. Sure, some go off the rails, leaving handmade holiday gifts and late night voicemails for admissions officers. But for most, the process is as confusing and challenging as trying to communicate with the teenager at the center of the entire enterprise. This list is for them.

First, please don't ruin the last holiday season these families have together before their child goes off to college and returns only for the free meals and laundry. I know rejection is part of the process, but on Christmas Eve? That's worse than coal in the stocking. We all want to finish up work and get away for the holidays, but would it hurt to send out decisions after the "most wonderful season of all" has ended?

Second, please check the list twice, maybe even thrice, before sending those Admit/Reject emails. Any mistakes should be mended by automatic admission, perhaps a scholarship to boot. I can just see it -- colleges scrambling to accommodate the "Accidental Admits," while at the same time making sure US News doesn't count their scores with the regular pool.

While we are on the topic of email, how about a good, old-fashioned paper response? If colleges can send out buckets of glossy junk mail, can't they at least spring for an actual decision letter? That would give rejected applicants something to crumple and toss in the garbage on their way to the nearest stash of holiday cookies. The paper ball and trail of crumbs might actually give parents a clue that something big has gone down in their teenager's life (as opposed to snooping in the teenager's email, which no parent would ever do, of course).

Next, let's drop all the smoke and mirrors about the waitlist. If the answer is no, please do the dirty deed now instead of dragging it out until the spring, or worse, August. The waitlist is purgatory -- and being placed on it is no consolation. Is it really necessary to put a thousand kids on the waitlist when only a tiny fraction will ultimately be accepted? Make a clean break so that applicants can move on and get excited about another school.

This one is a long shot, but how about an estimate on what you will offer accepted students in financial aid? This isn't about budgeting for a holiday shopping spree. The truth is that an acceptance isn't an acceptance if the family can't afford tuition. And after making families fill out pages of paperwork, please do actually abide by the "expected family contribution" and not underfund your promise after overselling your school.

Please don't punish kids for the good intentions of their parents. Nobody told them that moving to the best school district would actually hurt their child's chances of admission to their dream school. Little did they know when they dropped their youngsters off at kindergarten that half the class would be applying to the same three colleges! Who would have guessed it was a mistake to force the kids to get a summer job rather than enroll in college courses, or go meandering to "find their authentic voice." Oh, for the days when making sure the kids did their homework and stayed out of trouble was enough! It's no wonder some parents feel the rejection letter should be addressed to them, not their kids.

Finally, every parent's wish -- that colleges hold up their end of the bargain and provide students with an employable degree. No more Ph.D.'s in the physics of flatulence, please.

There you have it. I'm not casting admissions officers as Scrooges, and I know most of these requests are beyond their control. But the holiday season is a time for kindness and compassion, so if anything, I hope this list will remind colleges that applicants are still kids, with real families and parents just trying to do their best.