Helping Your Child Through The College Application and Acceptance Process

The first inkling I had as to what we were dealing within came in the spring of ninth grade when our child came home from school chastising her father and me for not signing her up for the Biology SAT II test. “All the other parents care about where their kids are going to go to college, and you don’t!”

I immediately got on the phone and found out that not only was she right, but the kids were also already working with tutors for the SAT’s as well as an outside ‘advisor’ who was advising on the course load, etc.

Thus was our entry into the Kentucky Derby of college races – with the finish line April 1. (The cruelty of the date is not lost on me, but I assure you there wasn’t one April Fool’s joke in regard to college acceptances.)

The actual day of reckoning is drama filled, with emotions higher than I thought possible; crying, screaming, phoning, emailing and instant messaging the order of the day after they all log into admission’s sections of the coveted schools at the appointed minute. Our daughter (and this touches my soul) took the acceptances that came early in the week before her first choice arrived and put them on the chair where the mail is dropped sure the positive Feng Shui would be good for the envelope she wanted.

I had a lot of time to think about college acceptances and what they actually mean. A friend told me that if he’d gone to Princeton or Yale his life would have been different. The connections from having attended those fine institutions would have meant success through whom you knew.

Then there is the odd duck who says that he or she chose a lesser known institution because it had well rounded people and they have had a happier life.

Then there are the editorials that abound saying that no one asks where you went to college after college and that it doesn’t matter.

Well, it does matter. It doesn’t matter for any of the reasons listed above, but rather because it is the first outside measuring stick that says who you are and how you can feel about yourself. It is the first real evaluation by the outside world as to your worth. The valuation is shouted from the rafters into your beloved teen’s peer group, your friends and your family.

I see it already, with my child, whose worth is so very great without her college acceptances, who is receiving congratulations from those in the world we call our community with a sense of awe and renewed respect. They thought she was smart; but now they know it. After all, it’s been stated by the admissions department – those oh so powerful faceless individuals that spent all of one hour with her and read her application in a raging sea of others.

What’s the lesson I’ve learned and how would I do it differently?

There is only one thing I would do. I would spend a lot more time during this process talking to her about markers of judgment by the outside world and how that’s one of the flaws of our society. I would sing of her sense of inner worth and how to nurture it from within, not from letters on the stoop. “Easy for her to say,” I hear you say. “Note that her daughter made the cut.”

That’s true, and I’m more relieved than you know, but not because I think the schools are that much greater, but rather because it meant so much to who she thinks she is.

Last summer, I had our company put together a notebook; a handbook of how to go through the process of applying to schools. I wanted to make sure that all the things I learned the hard way were in a guide; with lists and check off boxes ( to make sure that each parent and student could have the benefit of what we had missed.

What’s not in there, but will be shortly, are conversations you need to have with yourself – and your child – about the opportunity to allow this very first measuring stick to be a challenge for your internal measuring stick. Can you refuse to allow these results to define who you think you are? That is the most challenging of all the tests so far – far more interesting and rewarding than acing the SAT’s.

One of my daughter’s friends has already suffered the loss of her mother among other challenges. At a recent gathering of those celebrating and lamenting, she stated, “I’m just happy I’m going to college.” May you all remember her words through the process, and remember what your child is without the validation of this community that barely knows those they hold in the palms of their hands.

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