Coping with decisions when decision-time comes around

Guides / USA

At this time of year, US college admissions decisions start to trickle out, and then it becomes a flood. In this digital age, students no longer wait for the fat envelope or the thin envelope, instead it’s an email, or a notification to check an applicant portal.

When I was a school counselor, decision time was one where my pastoral role came to the fore. At the same time as one student was jumping for joy, another would be deep in the pits of despair. Often we asked colleges to let us know decisions in advance, so we could plan accordingly which students would need support.

The US admissions scandal is still making the news, and in the Chronicle of Higher Education the peerless Eric Hoover has a great article ( which includes this quote from James Miller of the University of Washington, Bothell:

“If we say that our college is special, that what you get here is unlike what you can get anyplace else, then we have to accept some responsibility for people actually believing it.”

To students caught up in what seems such a high-stakes game, each year I send a note to them and their parents saying some variation of this:

Whatever the results, know that you have already achieved success. You crafted strong applications which reflect your achievements over many years, both in and outside of the classroom. You did this while managing your other commitments, dealing with an application process that was completely new to you and maintaining your achievement in a school system not conducive to the pressures of US applications.

It is a natural part of applying to university that there will be disappointments. This is a learning process, dealing with disappointment in a way that doesn’t get you too down, with the same being said for not taking achievement too far.

Key to this is knowing that, though it might feel that way, your future does not depend on getting in to one particular university. You will have choices, good choices, and each of them is a pathway to a fulfilling future. I can tell many stories of students who initially felt a little deflated at the choices they had, only to reflect back later that the university they attended was the absolute best option.

At the same time, just being admitted to your dream colleges is no guarantee that your dream future will come, you need to continue to work hard and seek to make the most of the opportunities you have got.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, it has been a pleasure to share this process with you.

As educators and parents, sometimes we can forget the pressures students put on themselves and each other in this process. At this time of the year, it’s important that we let them know that they will be fine and a batch of decisions from universities doesn’t change the wonderful people that they are on their way to becoming.