THE BLOG
12/13/2013 01:36 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

Surviving Early Decision Blues

What a day. I've seen the highs, mediums and lows of college admissions as high school seniors found out all day whether they had been admitted to their dream colleges.

Yes, there are dream colleges for students. High school seniors can apply Early Decision in November, and if they get accepted in mid-December, they must go to that one college. They set all of their hopes on that one college, and they find out right before their final exams of first semester if they get in. With social media, the notification process is public; when a student gets admitted, everyone knows.

Then there is the deathly silence from those who are deferred or rejected -- the large majority of applicants.

Nothing can make 17-year-olds (and many of their families) understand deferrals or rejections. It cuts to the core of their identities, and we have very little time to help them maneuver through their profound anger and confusion to acceptance of their situation as regular decision deadlines are less than a month away.

So, here are some tips for helping devastated high school seniors and their families make it through the next couple of weeks.

1. They need to understand that no matter what, they will find a college that wants them and that they want. It may not be their first choice, but it will be their best choice.
2. Parents need to work through their own grief and help their children. You can't go and try to ascribe blame. For students who are rejected, the colleges weren't right for them. There is nothing they can do except make a positive plan. For colleges that deferred them, they are still in the game, but they still have to make other plans. This is often more difficult for students to handle than rejection.
3. The seniors need to re-focus their energies on "killing" their final exams and projects. This is the hardest part, but we have to help them find the energy and motivation to excel. These grades really matter as they represent the peaks of their academic prowess.
4. We can help them go through their application -- essays, activities, supplements and recommendations. We can see whether any changes are necessary, but often, it's not the quality of the application. It's the kinds of colleges on the list For deferred students, we can identify more information to share over the next few months to the colleges that deferred them, but we have to focus first on on the other colleges on their lists.
5. Students and families need to take a look at their college lists and see whether they need to add a few more colleges. This is really challenging for students who were focused on one college, but we need to help them. Ideally, they have already completed some of their other applications already, but usually they have more to do.
6. So welcome to a working winter vacation. We have to help refine their college lists and add some more likely and safety schools. We have to help them stay motivated as they complete many more applications.
7. When we look at the Early Decision stats this year, we will see that it was the most competitive year in history. Colleges received record numbers of applications, and the select colleges are accepting even smaller percentages. Even the most talented student will get rejected or deferred. I knew an amazing young lady last year get rejected Early Decision and then get accepted to an even more competitive college. I knew a remarkable young man get deferred by an Ivy League university and get into four others during regular admissions. The odds are not great for any applicant -- our rejected or deferred students need to realize that it's not that they are not special -- it's just that there are thousands and thousands of other special students out there.
8. We have to help the seniors manage their pride.Our high school seniors are so vulnerable. Their frontal cortexes are not yet fully formed, and they are awash in emotions. Making it worse, they are all living reality television lives, so they know kids around the country who got into the colleges they wanted to attend. We have to help them manage their internal and external lives.
9. So we need to help them process how they will present themselves over the next few days. We need to help our young people make a plan to save face, do well on exams and complete their remaining applications. We need to help them see that they are not alone.
10. We need to use our allies. It doesn't help to get angry at college or high school officials. We need to have them help us. They can help with new letters. They can help with refining applications. They can help with adding new colleges to a list. Use your allies to their fullest potential. They respond to positive energy much better than to anger. But try to catch them before break.

We know the next few days and weeks will be harrowing. But we need to help our young people find ways to identify other colleges they want to attend. We need to help them navigate one of the harshest realities of life -- there are not enough spaces at each college for every talented young person.

Yet, there is a college for every student. We need to keep our eyes on helping the seniors find more powerful college options and doing what we can to help them make new college dreams -- dreams that powerful and realistic.