On Thursday evening, just past 6 pm, Jake heard from his last school regarding whether or not he was accepted for admission. The answer was yes and we all breathed a sigh of relief, but wow, what a month! (BTW, Emory University, Oxford Campus, Class of 2019)
I am not the first person to write on this topic, but as a parent of a high school senior, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional journey this would be for me. In the past week, I watched several Southwest television ads catering to students visiting college campuses. ABC’s television show, In the Middle, devoted an entire episode to Sue’s college admissions decisions, and The New York Times ran a fabulous piece about surviving the madness of the college admissions process. If you find yourself in this boat or know someone who is, read this article. For that matter, if this process is still several years down the road for you, read it anyway.
My own college admissions process could not have been any more different. I applied to one school (Go TU!) and was accepted. I don’t recall feeling ANY anxiety about this process. I hope and pray that my experience still exists for some.
I know my reactions and observations are affected by the environment in which I live and work. After all, The Stony Brook School is a college-preparatory school. The students and families associated with this school want to attend, by and large, top-tier institutions. My own son is a perfect example of this. When Jake started to talk about colleges, I was surprised to hear names such as “Harvard and Princeton” in the mix. While Brad and I are not opposed to the Ivies, these weren’t the types of schools we talked about at home. We are the product of a small Christian liberal arts school that we loved.
So as we entered Jake’s senior year, we wondered “where will Jake end up?” In October, Brad and he flew to Atlanta to visit Emory. Jake fell in love with the Oxford Campus, which is 45 minutes away from the main campus. The Oxford Campus is small, only for freshmen and sophomores, and boasts a small faculty to student ratio. Jake’s junior and senior years will be spent on the main campus. Then in November we took a crucial and hugely beneficial trip to the Chicago area to visit several schools. Northwestern and University of Chicago quickly emerged as new favorites. Unfortunately, Northwestern said no and UChicago said maybe, which means waitlisted. We won’t know until early summer if there is spot for him.
On the advice of the college guidance counselor, Jake also applied to several “safety” schools. He heard “yes” from most of them. I quickly learned to read the signs in the mailbox. If a large packet arrived from a school, it meant yes. If an envelope arrived, it meant no. For the big three schools, emails were sent. First an email alerting the student that the decision would be coming out in the next week on so-and-so date at 6 pm. Why 6 pm? Why disrupt the dinner hour even more? I digress. Then the actual email telling you yes or no.
How to navigate the college admissions process with your child? I wish I had more pearls of wisdom to offer, but here’s how Brad and I survived the process.
We prayed. Sometimes together, but mainly separately. We knew that the Lord’s hand was on Jake just as it always has been. We trusted that he would lead and guide him to the right school.
We tried to remind Jake that who he is as a person is not determined by the university he attends. After he heard the disappointing news from Northwestern, I texted him, “ The Lord knows. God is faithful. He has been faithful to you every step of the way.” I believe this with all my heart.
For me, the most challenging part of this journey has been worrying about Jake and how he views himself. How will he feel about himself if the top-tier schools say no? I can honestly say that the prestige of the university matters less to me because I know there are hundreds of excellent schools out there. But as a parent, watching your child hurt or struggle when a dream school says “no,” is one of the hardest parts of the job.
My heart goes out to the thousands of high school seniors around the country who received or will still receive disappointing news regarding the college of their choice. May they realize that where they attend college does not determine their worth or value as a person.