This week, I have received several phone calls from families mourning the college decisions their high school seniors received in March. They rarely open with the wonderful colleges that did accept their children. That's where I begin my advice, but it is always a challenging phone call.
April is the month when the dramatic process of applying to college and waiting for acceptances transitions to the process of choosing which college to attend. While high school seniors and their families should be focusing on which college their child will attend, many, like the families who are calling me, are holding onto what should have been or could have been. These are most likely the families that did not have diverse college lists even though they knew the low odds of admissions at most of the schools on their lists. They are also the families that get attached to college names, rather than the incredible quality of programming at the large majority of colleges in this country.
Let me introduce you to two former high school seniors who initially let this happen. Two years ago, a senior I know was rejected from all but two of the colleges to which she applied. She now attends one of those two colleges, a college she initially believed was beneath her. A current sophomore, she is now not only starring in the campus opera, but she has also worked with several incredible vocal instructors and spent last summer at a special program her college runs in Rome. Last year, a young man was denied admissions by all one college on his list. Yet right now at this very college, he is currently working on three engineering projects, rowing on the school's crew team, and preparing for a spectacular summer job on a cutting-edge development team. Both students now say they cannot imagine attending any other college.
The names of these colleges do not matter; rather it's the quality of the programs they are offering these students that speaks to the critical need to find the strengths of the colleges that accept our seniors. Fortunately, these two students had families that used April to help guide their children from rejection to acceptance.
So if you know any seniors and/or parents suffering from rejection-induced despair, here are five tips to help guide them through the month of April:
1. Be supportive at all costs. Parents and students, of course, need to mourn lost college opportunities. But parents have to put their disappointment aside and help their seniors make proactive college plans by May 1, the national student intent to register deadline. We need to start by selling the colleges that accepted them.
2. Visit the colleges that accepted them. April is the month colleges roll out the red carpet for admitted students on their campuses. Families need to help their children visit the colleges that accepted them. They should arrange for one to two day tours where students can spend the night in dorms with current students, attend classes, meet with professors and participate in other campus events. Seeing is believing, and through these visits, seniors can begin to create new college pictures for themselves.
3. Talk with current and former students of accepted colleges. If students can't visit in person, there are other options. Alumni organizations in students' hometowns often have accepted student functions. There are also current students in your area that will meet or speak with your students. Students need to learn about the extraordinary resources at the colleges that accepted them.
4. Appeal and/or move through waitlists quickly. If students are still determined to attend a college that rejected or waitlisted them (the often longer road to rejection), help them. Gather stats -- how many kids are on the waitlist and what percentages typically get admitted? Does the college accept appeals? Students need to feel they have tried, but then they must move on, as they have to find happiness with a college that has accepted them. Adults have to guide seniors through this process and help students focus on the future.
5. Explain the transfer process. If the seniors cannot see themselves at any of the colleges that accepted them, explain the transfer process. Colleges want happy transfer candidates. The seniors must understand that they can transfer at different times. They can start at a local community college or at one of the colleges that accepted them. They need to end senior year strong, do something productive this summer, and take freshman classes that transfer. Some times just helping them understand this process will help seniors find ultimate happiness at one of the colleges that accepted them.