This year was our first rodeo with the college application/admission/rejection process, and the experience has been eye-opening. I skimmed through articles about how to make it through in one piece, and while they contained some relevant and poignant statements, I have learned a couple of things on my own by experiencing this process first-hand.
I have learned that I don’t like waiting. It makes me feel like I’m in a slow-motion, human-sized garlic press, slowly squeezing & crushing me.
I have learned that going through the college application process with your child can either be a bonding experience OR polarizing. Hedge your bets, parents, and hire that college adviser who can help your child so that you can maintain a healthy relationship with your off-spring.
I have learned that camaraderie among other parents going through this experience is critical to making it through in one piece. I didn’t know what to expect in this area, and entered the world of ‘yes, my son is applying to college too’ with caution. What I discovered is that we are all in the same boat – we all want the best for our children. An acceptance letter is something to celebrate, regardless of the recipient. It’s not a competition at all…we are all in the maze with opening & closing doors, and nothing propels you forward more or has the potential to give you hope than hearing good news.
I have also learned that it is very challenging to be a parent and sit on the sidelines, helpless, as all of this unfolds for your child. How do teach someone not to take a rejection personally? How do you get them to listen to you and believe you when you tell them that they are successful, and good, and have so much to offer when all they feel is Not.Good.Enough.
When the doors start slamming shut and the rejection emails and letters start rolling in, it is nearly impossible to help your child separate their self-worth from the rejection. For some reason, those rejections can resonate more deeply than the acceptances, and confident students can become unraveled.
But, here’s the reality of the situation from my point of view: Self-worth is determined by who you are as a person, as a student, as a member of your community and your family, and what kind of friend you are, NOT by the name of the college you will attend in September. What matters is how you pull up your socks and pick yourself up when you stumble or face-plant. Regardless of the name that is emblazoned across the chest of your new sweatshirt that still has fold-marks in it, what will you do with what you experience these next four years? And, what about the last four years? Does the sum of all that you learned and experienced only equal the weight of the name of the college at the top of an acceptance letter? While I may not be good at math, I’m pretty good at measuring things, and this equation seems remarkably out of whack.
What I wish is that I could sit down with every high school senior right now, look them in the eye, and tell them how proud I am of who they’ve grown up to be. I think of my son’s friends and while some of them may only feel the sting of the shut door, I see and feel something very different. I see kids who have been there for my son, kids who have thrived both in and out of the classroom, kids who have the world at their feet and opportunities just waiting for them to embrace. I feel intense pride for what they have accomplished during high school, and know that they have already made a difference in this world. And, what I want more than anything to impart on them is the fact that no matter where they go or what color sweatshirt they end up wearing, they all possess what it takes to do great things. No rejection letter can ever take that from you.