'Tis the season: University decision letters are coming in...

"Let’s help our students manage this one so that they can be more prepared for what life will continue to roll out: the unexpected."

Indeed it is the season. For students receiving those [unpredictable] decisions from their universities...

Some of your students already have received decisions and many will in the upcoming days and weeks. It’s an awkward time for students and families and can be an awkward moment for advising them. They’ve spent months—years?—going through the university admissions process and ultimately submitting (many at this stage to US universities with early admission plans such as ED and EA and others to the UK where they may receive fairly quick responses) their applications only to wait for…what?

Most are not at all prepared for the outcome. After all, this is the first time in the student’s life—and most often in the parents’—that they experience this rite of passage. And, while it’s impossible to really prepare anyone for an experience they have not yet had, there are some things we can advise students and parents on to help them to prepare for receiving and digesting those decisions from their universities.

After all, everyone hopes for the best and yet it’s a process that can offer both the best of news and seemingly the worst…

1. Decisions will come in at any hour of the day or night. Whether your students are physically scattered around the globe or have applied to universities scattered around the globe, those decisions will not usually come in at the most convenient hour of the student’s day. I had a student just receive an offer from the UK; she opened the email during her Biology class. (Not recommended. And not sure how she was able to access her mobile during class…) Last year I had a student set her alarm at 2am when she knew the decision for her ED school in the US would be delivered. Definitely not recommended. (She was rejected, flat out. She had an exam the next day and, as you can imagine, didn’t sleep the entire rest of the night.)

I ask my students to think about this now: Where would you like to open your decision letters and with whom would you like to be?

By going through this exercise I hope that most will honour how they originally answered this (instead of acting on impulse). In the best of situations (read: acceptance!), this gives the student the opportunity to express elation without inhibition; in the worst of situations (read: rejection), this gives the student a safe environment to express her disappointment and the feelings that go along with rejection. Remember: for many adolescents who are rejected from university this will be the first real moment of rejection in their lives.

2. Read the decision letter in its entirety. An acceptance may request further information. A conditional acceptance (ie: from the UK) will give very specific criteria for turning that conditional offer into a confirmed one. A deferral may request that the student confirm she wants to be considered in a different round of admissions. Each student is responsible for knowing precisely what the decision letter states…and perhaps requests. Not taking a moment to confirm this can cost the student a potential university acceptance.

3. Be kind. This is the most emotional moment of the journey. We can’t prepare our students to feel what it is they will upon receiving a decision letter whose contents no one can predict. This is why this moment is such an important one in an adolescent’s life—that moment of experiencing acceptance or rejection, one that will come up again and again throughout life. But, we can help students—and parents!—remember the act of kindness during these moments.

And, here I mean both kindness to the self, and kindness to others.

Students who have put forth their best effort in their applications should (easier said than done, of course) have no regrets at this stage. If they receive news they hoped would be different, it’s a moment in life to understand how to be kind to his or her own self. To stay confident and proud of who they are knowing that not everyone will accept them—whether it’s for university, jobs, friendships or otherwise—in life. Certainly this is easier said than done; but, we’ve all experienced rejection. It’s unpleasant, disappointing, and hurts. But, we learn to face it and move on.

The other moment of kindness is to others. I always remind my students who have received the news they hoped for that there will be someone at that moment close to them who received disappointing news. (I remind parents of this as well; sometimes they can forget this.) Be sensitive to this and remember that while this is your moment of elation, someone else is suffering disappointment. Be kind and gentle with those around you. Of course you should celebrate. But, celebrate with class and compassion. Parents, the absolute same goes for them. I can’t tell you how much it hurt a parent of mine to have a mother bragging about her son’s acceptances in a small group setting as my parent was suffering with her own son’s rejection. This is common sense. Although sometimes it’s lost in moments of pure emotion.

This is an exciting moment for everyone involved in the process. Sometimes it comes up rather quickly. The student spent so many months on the application, only just turned it in a month or so ago, and is going to hear his first decisions on what is the next stage of his life. Don’t underestimate how important guidance and counselling is at this stage. Any rite of passage in life involves the unexpected. Let’s help our students manage this one so that they can be more prepared for what life will continue to roll out: the unexpected.

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