These are the weeks when seniors in high school are hearing the good, and the bad, and the ‘we’re not sure yet’ news.
Even before the letters (or e-mails) arrive, the college admissions frenzy has left both kids and parents emotionally raw. After all the testing, tutoring, campus visiting, essay writing, financial aid form processing and interviewing, the time spent getting into a dream school has become disproportionate with the amount of time spent in college.
Not surprisingly, these are the weeks when everyone says it doesn’t matter where you go to college, that college isn’t the sole determiner of life-long happiness and financial success.
Achieving life-long happiness is a rather abstract concept no matter what your age. Try convincing a kid who has spent 12 years in school with the expectation that getting a seat at Harvard, Columbia, U Mich, Berkeley, UCLA, Rice, Davidson, Tulane–or whatever their college of choice –would be the ultimate in fulfillment.
Try convincing a parent about to fork over $50,000 a year that Brand A is identical to Brand B for the same price.
Try convincing that serious student who took all AP classes, received mostly A’s, played Ophelia, tutored at the local elementary school and worked a part-time job that it doesn’t matter.
So what to do if your pride and joy didn’t get it? Don’t dismiss the loss. Don’t smooth it over. Don’t make justifications, or allegations about the unworthiness of the school. Don’t say their hard work and ambition doesn’t matter.
Instead, we say let your kid grieve and be sad. It may be their first really big disappointment (and, yes, they will get over it), but don’t pretend that it wasn’t a dream or a worthy goal.
It does matter that they worked hard to achieve that goal. The trick is for them to separate their worth and value as human beings from their external successes. This is the ultimate goal of good parenting and education.
How did we soothe a no good bad college admissions day? We went shoe shopping. Yes, if you have a daughter teach her the real lesson of life–there is nothing that a great pair of new shoes-bought on sale- can’t fix!
*We first wrote a version of this story for the Huffington Post