Look, I know many of you are feeling stressed (or more) about decisions this week. I get it — it’s a crazy tough time — especially if you weren’t offered admission. First, know this: It’s their loss. You are going to be sad for a day or two or even three, and then you’re gonna get your sh!t together and move forward. 

Time to Keep Zigging

If things didn’t go the way you want, trust me when I say that it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It doesn’t change who you are or who you’re becoming or the amazing trajectory of your lives.

It just means you’re going to zig instead of zag. And zigging is really fricking awesome. When you zig you learn from the unexpected. Sure. It all hurts. It sucks so much, like really, really bad for some of you, and it’s ok to feel all that, but then you’re going to get back to your zig. You got this.

🌦Dealing with Feelings

When decisions don’t go your way, it can feel pretty sh!tty, but it’s ok to feel the pain. In fact, the only way to get past the pain is to allow it. In my family, we call it “Going on a Bear Hunt.” I don’t know if you know the children’s chant, but it’s about getting thrown the tall, swishy-swashy grass and the thick, oozy, gooey mud and the fast-rushing river. To me, those are metaphors for the emotions we have to pass through as we make our way through anger, sadness, and disappointment. My therapist used to call it making it through the train tunnel. You’ve got to let yourself feel those emotions, or you get stuck — and you really need to make your way out. 

In mindfulness, we use a technique called RAIN:

Recognize your feelings.

Accept and acknowledge that they are there.

Investigate them — what caused them, why are you feeling them

Non—identify; know that they are just feelings — and feelings come and go.

You are the observer of your feelings, but you are not your feelings. Think of it like this: You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather. Those feelings — as horrible as they might be — are like really bad weather. They will come and go. They are not you.

This is all to say, you’re going to be ok. Allow yourself to be sad or angry. Sometimes schools make really stupid f*cked up decisions, and it’s not a reflection on you, but that doesn’t make it easier to swallow right in the beginning. So be sad or angry. Smash some pillows, angry cry. Go through those feelings, and then go find ice cream.

🍦Eat lots of ice cream and do some intense pillow-bashing

Seniors come back and tell me this every year: After they’ve cried, pounded their pillows, licked their wounds, and eaten ice cream — and I mean there’s a lot of ice cream eating going on during college-admission-decision time — a few months later, they come back and talk about how even though it was the most stressful experience of their short lives, they are proud of how much they learned about themselves and how much stronger they feel now. This is the good kind of stress — where you grow and learn.

Now, in case you think I’m trying to turn the admissions experience into some happy-ending forest-like fairytale — I’m not. In fact, I think there’s a lot wrong with it. I believe the non-stop college talk in schools and homes is downright dangerous for some kids — and the constant college admissions chatter causes unnecessary stress in many others.

💞 Forget about Dream Schools.

Instead of spending so much time focusing on one school — a “dream school,” I encourage you to find your “Dream You” — not your Dream U. Look, I know you’ve been taught to “dream big” and “follow your dreams,” but it’s not about finding the school of your dreams; it’s about finding the you of your dreams. In my book, find the best version of you. When you’re drooling over that perfect school with a perfect campus and perfect classes, you’re not dreaming about any one school. You’re dreaming about who you want to be and where you can become who you want to be, and there isn’t only one Dream School where you can do that.” So, I invite you to think deeply — and figure out what it is about that particular school that makes you consider it your dream school — because I guarantee that your dream isn’t out there in the form of a college; it is in YOU.

😎 You can only control your own actions

Probably the most relevant lesson to the college admissions journey is the understanding that we can only control our own actions — and it’s fruitless to spend our time and energy trying to control anything else. And what you can control in college admissions is what goes in the application — essays, activity descriptions, and grades and test scores to a limited extent. What you cannot control is the number of other well-qualified exceptional students who might be applying to the same tiny teacup of schools as you are; you cannot control the bulk of your transcript by the time you’re a senior; you cannot control the institutional needs of the colleges on your list; you cannot control the mood, preferences, or predilections of the application readers. You cannot, in essence, control what colleges want at the particular reading of your application on a particular day, and as an admissions officer from U Chicago once told me, “Just when you think you’ve figured out what we want, we’ve changed our mind.” The only thing you can control is becoming who you are and then putting together the best application that reflects the best of who you are.

👀 Institutional priorities? What does that mean?

I’ve been asked before what “institutional priorities” means: it means colleges have to create a class, so they’re looking for all kinds of people with varying strengths, abilities, talents, and backgrounds. They don’t want to have a uniform set of people who are all doing the same stuff. That’s why it’s important to have holistic admissions and not just base it on stats. Also, they have a school to run, so certain departments and faculty might have more needs at different times. Or, sometimes, it’s just whatever their board members and presidents tell them they should keep in mind as they create a class. This is the part of college admissions we have no control over and why applicants need not take any of it personally. Institutional needs change year to year, so you can’t prep and plan ahead.

Here’s a comment by one of our former moderators that he made on r/UTAustinAdmissions2, and I think it explains a lot about institutional needs.

🧘🏻‍♀️ Remember to Breathe

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by sadness and frustration, I try to remind myself to stop and breathe and say these words:

I am who I am

This is what it is

May I accept things as they are

May I trust in the unfolding

It’s so simple to breathe, yet when we are full-on in the anger and sadness and worry feels it can be crazy difficult to remember. And these words can help you with the reality that there is only so much you can control. Right now, what you can control is how you process this time in your life and next steps.

💖Now, here’s what I love most about college admissions

It can actually be this period of amazing self-growth and development — like no other if you allow yourself to recognize that some amount of stress is necessary and good for your development, and if we acknowledge that there might be ways to reframe our understanding of college admissions by changing the words and phrases we use. When you take control of your admissions journey, and you incorporate some mindfulness into your lives, you can grow in self-confidence and maturity as you dig in and learn more about yourself than you ever have. Figuring out what you want in a college, developing a list, and writing personal essays all require deep reflection and self-investigation. Taking the reins and handling the details and difficulties of the application process demonstrates your abilities and strengths. And, no matter the outcome, no matter where you end up going to college, no matter how painful some of this journey might be, this transformational experience, filled not only with stress but also with excitement and joy — is turning you into a stronger human, ready to take on college — and life.

🧸One last note: It can really hurt when life doesn’t go your way, and sometimes you just have to give in to the pain — that’s the only way through it. So slam doors, eat ice cream — or chips, bash pillows, cry — it’s all ok. It’s their loss. You are going to be sad for a day or two, and then you’re going to get your sh!t together and “thank-you-next” them so you can recognize this: this one door shutting? It’s really an infinite number of doors opening. This is your chance. This is your time to learn how strong you are and learn more about colleges and what you want for yourself. This isn’t an ending. It’s a beginning.

🤓 I’ve written a couple of posts recently that might help:

Here’s my first one about emotional planning and what that means: https://admissionsmom.college/mental-health/if-you-applied-early-its-time-for-some-emotional-planning-2023-updates/

Here’s my post from last week some stories about baby trees, lotuses, college decisions, and you: https://admissionsmom.college/college-decisions/college-admissions-decisions-wind-and-why-a-little-stress-just-might-be-good-for-you/

Also — I was on the “Inside College Admissions” Podcast with Scoir talking about handling your decisions and how it hurts, but then it passes. Even if it feels like the worst thing in the world right now, it will pass. You are the sky; everything else is the weather. If you’d like to take a listen, here’s the link

💜 Deferred? For those of you who were deferred, we’ll discuss writing a LOCI in January. Do whatever the college says to do in the paperwork, sign forms, etc. But if you’re planning to write a Letter of Continued Interest (LOCI), I suggest you do that in January after colleges are back on campus if they don’t give you other more explicit directions. I’ll be making a new post soon, but here’s my post from last year, if you’d like to learn more: 

Tl;dr: You are a badass. You don’t need them. You have you.

When life gives you lemons, lean back and squeeze that shit into your eyeballs. Then glare back at life and say, “That all you got, motherfucker?” — Mark Manson

(and don’t do that — it will hurt a whole fuck ton!!!)

Just for Parents of Students Applying to College:

I know (from personal experience) that these can be rough days for parenting – dealing with the stress of waiting for decisions is hard for everyone involved, and when decisions don’t go your child’s way and they are hurt, you hurt too. But please keep in perspective that this is their experience, and they will need to process and go through it in their own way. 

Remember you are the support system here. Just as the decisions that colleges make are in no way a reflection of who your child is, those decisions are also in no way a reflection of your parenting. 

However, you do have the opportunity to do some awesome parenting right now. 

Be sure to tell your kids how proud you are of them – before decisions come out. 

Be sure to tell them that where they attend college is not what matters to you. 

Be sure they know that you know they will be successful in life, and the name of their college won’t be what creates that success. 

Too many kids these days aren’t hearing these messages from their parents, so make sure yours do – Please. 

Also, make sure you have lots of ice cream or chips and guacamole or whatever their favorite treat is on hand! Believe it or not, hugs and ice cream can make a big difference. 

(Hey parents, if you want to join our parenting group for parents of teens applying to college, we still have a couple of spaces left. Come join us! Reach out to me for details.)