8 things I wish I'd known about the college admissions waiting game

As May 1, the deadline for high-school seniors to pick their college, approaches, the tension in homes with college-bound kids is palpable.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Kavita Varma-White

For those of us parents who currently have kids waiting to hear about college acceptances, every day feels like playing the old-school dice game, Yahtzee.

Why? Because parenting has always been a constant worry about when the next stage will happen. When will they sleep through the night? When will they crawl, or give up that darn pacifier?

Waiting for the milestones to occur is like rolling the Yahtzee dice over and over in search of the best outcome. It’s as if infancy to toddlerhood to the teen years are all jostling about in that small blue cup. As a parent, you shake, blow on it for good luck (am I the only one who does that?), and hope for the best possible results.

And so it goes, until there’s one last spot to fill on the game card, and it’s the hardest to get but also the 50-point game-changer. It requires the money roll: Yahtzee!

As May 1, the deadline for high school seniors to pick their college, approaches, the tension in homes where kids are waiting for admissions decisions is palpable. And mostly, we parents are to blame. We stalk college message boards. Our cocktail party chatter is all about whose kid applied where. We nag them to check their online college “portals” for news, since the days of checking the mailbox for that telltale big envelope are long past.

So many college brochures over the past year and now it's a waiting game. Can they just say "yes" already? Courtesy: Kavita Varma-White

In short, we are driving ourselves — and our kids — crazy.

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The good news, my fellow parents-of-seniors, is that we are almost there! Here are a few things I wish I had known about this bizarre post-college-application, pre-college-acceptance period of limbo.

1. Once applications are in, the hard work is (basically) done.

Everyone thinks the final year of school is the academic pressure cooker, but in reality, college application resumes are developed the three years prior — especially junior year. By late fall/early winter of senior year, most students have their essays written, test scores and a mostly-complete transcript. When your child hits "send" on their final application, rejoice! There is a brief lull, before the acceptances and rejections, when every kid (and parent!) has optimism and hope. Savor it.

2. Once applications are in, there’s no point in talking about them.

You know how it feels to be done with a big project at work, and all you want to do at home is detach and watch the latest episode of “This is Us”? Same with our kids. Consider each application a big project and let it go when it’s done. Don’t ask how they answered certain questions. (“Did you remember to put that you were in Honor Society for four years?”) For sure, don’t go back and read their essays. But if you must, don’t point out grammar mistakes or what they could have written. That ship has sailed, or rather, been emailed.

Me and my college senior: When there is no college talk, we are all smiles. Courtesy: Kavita Varma-White

3. Kids don’t want to talk about their college choices

My daughter applied to 10 schools, all over the country. She dislikes talking about it, yet it’s the first thing any adult wants to ask her about. My husband and I are constantly probing about what her “front-runner” is, but she won’t divulge her top choice. She has joked that we will find out on the morning of May 1, when she’ll come to breakfast wearing a sweatshirt from her future school. As much as I want to start picturing her at some particular campus, I realize that, at 17, she is just protecting herself from potential disappointment. Can you blame her?

4. Your kids’ friends don’t want to talk about colleges, either.

Why? See above.

5. Beware of discussing colleges with other parents.

College selection is as personal as naming your child. Would you tell someone, “Wow, I would never choose that name! That name is not in the top 20 of baby names!” Nope. Likewise, don’t impose your own school preferences on others. Kids are different and there is a place for everyone. Also, you will find out quickly which parents want to talk about colleges (I have a few on speed dial!) and which ones don’t. Respect that. I inadvertently caused a friend to cry because I mentioned my daughter had received an acceptance from a college her son hadn't yet heard from. I felt terrible. Fortunately, a week later she called with the good news her son had been accepted.

Waiting for colleges to say your kid is accepted is like waiting to roll the perfect Yahtzee!Courtesy: Kavita Varma-White

6. Stop asking your kids if they have checked their college “portals."

Most schools send applicants email alerting them to when they will send out decisions. At that point, applicants have to sign into the school’s online portal, where they will see their admission result. This was new to us the first time our daughter checked and learned her fate from a school. She is still waiting to hear from five schools. And we must fight the urge — Every. Single. Day. — to ask her if she’s checked.

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7. Don’t go on college message boards.

Colleges have online message boards where students can post their acceptance status, and they usually include their statistics (test scores, GPA, activities, etc.) This can be extremely (and unnecessarily) disheartening. When our daughter was deferred by one school, we looked at the message board and found the caliber of students in many cases had better statistics than she does. She is still waiting to hear from that school, and our fingers and toes are crossed for her, but seeing that message board made us feel less optimistic.

8. Finally, celebrate every letter of admission.

Because any acceptance is great. Go ahead, bake a cake or hang balloons in school colors. (We are more low-key in our house, although there were texts exchanged with excited GIFs and happy emojis!) It's also OK to feel disappointed by a rejection, but model to your kids that it's really not the end of the world. As Tom Barry, a counselor with Collegewise-Northwest, points out: "Kids should know that a single decision by a single college won't define them. And a year from now, no one will care or be asking them about the places [where] they didn't get in."

So, it doesn’t matter if they get into 10 of 10 schools or 1 of 10 schools.Your kid got into college. You just rolled Yahtzee!

This article was originally published March 13, 2017.