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A Welcome Calm in the University Admissions Process: Regular Decision

For those of you not involved or touched by the university admissions process—in particular that of the US—it may surprise you to read that I really like—and appreciate--the Regular Admissions round. There’s so much anxiety, fury and madness over the “early” round—ED, EA, REA, ED2, …--and by now you know how I feel about it: it’s unhealthy, can be manipulative and brings a lot of fear to my students' and families' lives from September through to November. There is little time between the submission of those applications in November—generally speaking—and the time my students find out their decision, in December. So, there’s no time to not think about it. To stop obsessing about it. To think clearly.

And, then, there is Regular Decision. For all of the bad rap it gets—it’s the afterthought, the ugly step-sister in this process that every student needs to engage but few respect—“RD” lends to the most positive outcomes in the process.

How can that possibly be?, one might question.

Consider this: For the first time in over a year, my students, my families have been tuned out of the university admissions craze. Yet, most of them are still in it (meaning that they are waiting to hear back from universities on their decisions). (Save for those who went for ED1/2 and were accepted and for those the process—the anxiety--has generally ended.) No one expects this moment of reprieve to arrive--or even considers it during the application process--but it’s something embedded into, a very function of, the Regular Decision process.

My students apply by the end of December. And, yet, they have to wait usually until March for the RD decisions to come back from universities. So, there are three glorious months of, well, tuning out. There’s not much to do for the university admissions process during this time and my students automatically shift into another gear: they don’t really talk about it. And, this, this is what I believe is most important. Everyone has gone a bit quiet about who is getting into where, who wrote about what on their essays and who scored what on which standardized test. Lives continue and students and families forget—the beauty of the human being, an ability to forget the stress they just endured—about the craziness and frenzy and go about other things.

The obvious benefits of this I don’t need to write about. But, think for a moment about how this detachment from the process for several weeks helps the mind to regroup, for the student to perhaps get a bit more sleep, for perspective to come into play. And, I believe this “rest”, this break, truly helps my students and families to take that final decision once RD decisions do come in on where is best to make that deposit and ultimately attend university. If my students were forced to take this decision at the height of the frenzy—in November or December—decisions would be taken for myriad wrong reasons. Their minds just are not rested enough to make solid, well-thought-through decisions. But, now, in mid-to-late March, after a few months of repose and change of focus, we regroup and are able to see a bit more clearly.

I’ll be asking my students and my families to each draw up a thoughtful “pros and cons” list for each of their accepting universities in the next couple of weeks. They’ll go back to their university research, go back to their conversations noted with admissions officers and go back and review the specifics of each acceptance letter. The most important aspect here now is about that fit. And, I do believe and do see that my students, after this short but very welcome break from the madness, are able to reflect more clearly on their own selves and consider more thoughtfully where they’ll be happiest for the next three to four years of their lives.

So, while we don’t see it often in the process it does exist: those positive moments, outcomes and learning opportunities. Regular Decision allows for just that. We must not consider it as second-best.

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