Waiting for college admissions decisions to arrive

This one’s for all of us who are parents.

think I might know what you may be thinking…

As an experienced Parent of a College-Bound Student (it’s a real title, kind of like “Queen of England”), I’ve been where you are right now.

Three times. (And, yes, I’m happy to say that with my youngest now a college sophomore, I am officially done!)

Nine years ago (with my oldest daughter), seven years ago (with my son), and then again, just the year before last at this time, I found myself anxiously sitting in the when-will-those-college-admissions-envelopes–finally-arrive-and-what-news-will-they-bring? seat. (If the truth be told, I wasn’t really doing much sitting. Rather, I was running around getting ready for the holidays, reading the Lawrence applications assigned to me, and listening for the mail truck to roll down my street.)

Even though college admissions is my profession—which means I’m supposed to have a pretty firm handle on “how this process works”—we’re talking about  MY OWN CHILDREN going through this process, which means that most of my professional perspective sits on the sidelines while the mother in me takes center stage. I’m excited and proud of my kids, but If I’m being honest, I was nervous for all three of them (as the well-worn path from my pacing would suggest).

What if they didn’t get in?

What if they did?

I know that the size of the envelope matters. Big ones mean good news. Small ones… well, I try not to go there, but I wanted to be prepared for it.

For those of you going through this for the second or third or seventh (whew!) time, you already know what I’m talking about. For those of you who are newcomers to this process, here is a quick intro to the three types of letters colleges generally send—presuming the college still uses some paper and stamps:

The “Congratulations, you’re in!” letter. Hooray! The letter we usually* want our children to get. It’s an opportunity to put a school in the “this might be my new home next fall” pile… and start a whole different kind of planning.

*I say “usually” because sometimes—for various reasons that we might never say out loud—we may hope our children don’t get into a particular college. (For example, it might be really really far away… like anywhere farther away than the home in which we have raised them…)

The “Not quite yet” letter, which usually says something like, “The Admissions Committee has decided not to make a decision on your application at this time,” and then describes their process about how they are deferring their decision so they can consider the application along with a different pool of candidates.

This piece of news is neither good nor bad; it’s procedural. It usually means that the Admissions Committee wants to get some more information (fall semester grades, an interview, a box of chocolate chip cookies, etc.) from the applicant. (I’m kidding about the cookies.) Some deferred students will ultimately get the good news letter. Some will not. Some will take themselves out of the running before that college ever re-visits their application. A deferral is not a time to panic, but a time for students to reach out to the admissions office to see what else they might want to provide in order to help that admission committee come to a decision that delivers the desired results. It’s also a great time for students to reassess for themselves how big a priority this particular school really is on their often shifting list of #1’s.

The “We regret to inform you…” letter. We don’t even need to read the rest of the letter, because we know what it’s going to say: Ugh. But it doesn’t mean that we parents won’t find our blood temperatures rising to a simmer or boil, because—really?—how could they not see the good qualities and potential in my child? Who do they think they are?

“They” are my colleagues (and me). I have been on that admissions staff, and I can tell you that most of us did not get into this profession because we like saying “no” to people. We agonize about these decisions each year. In the case of Lawrence, I know that the reason we choose not to offer admission to particular students almost always lies in our collective belief (and it is a group of people who must share the belief) that the students, for reasons as unique as each of them, are not likely to be successful in our academic environment, no matter how much we may like them as people and want them at our university. To knowingly put students into situations where they are highly unlikely to be successful would be irresponsible on our part.

I can tell you, after all the waiting, those letters will finally arrive at your house (and with a couple, involving each of my children, I know I hugged my mailman). Most of them elicit happy dancing in my kitchen, phone calls to relatives—and, at least for me, because I am a crier—tears of joy (with some of the letters) and tears of frustration with some of the others. As a family, we have learned a lot about each other during the college search months and before I could blink an eye, I was crying (again), this time as we drove away after dropping our last off at her freshman dorm. Which, whether our children are in the same city or a time zone or two away, will likely feel too far away from our own homes for our taste. I am so proud of all three of my children who have already completed this process. They are thriving… despite my inability to nag them on a regular basis in person.

There I go again. (Did I mention that I am a crier?)

This is an exciting time for you and your child. I encourage you to take several deep breaths, embrace each step of the process (even the tough ones), enjoy these last few high school months, and feel free to contact me (or any of my colleagues in the Lawrence Admissions Office) if we can be of assistance to you.

Carin Smith
Lawrence University Regional Admission Director

What to do about those looming deadlines?

As someone who has been working in admissions for nearly three decades, I have noticed a steady change in the way students perceive deadlines—especially these days. “Apply by November 1” did not used to mean “wait until 11:55 PM on October 31 to hit the magic submit button.”

But oh, the times they are a-changin’ (I’ll save my theories on this for another day). For many students, deadlines are not the last day to submit the application—they are the only day to submit the application. Not a minute, or hour, or day before. (Let’s not even go down the road of a week or month before).

I lived this phenomenon not too long ago with my middle child. For the most part, he had embraced the process. He spent some time investigating “good fit” schools, visiting campuses, listening to admissions officers extol the virtues of the school they represent, and pared his list to those he felt were worthy of an application.

And then…
And then…
And then…

Well that’s when rubber hit the road in my mom world.

I frequently found myself asking – usually as he was watching Sunday football or late-night SportsCenter – “When do you think you might want to start working on your college applications?” This question usually elicited one of the following (wonderfully verbose) responses:

“When they’re due.”

“Soon.”

“When I’m ready.”

I countered with some award-winning questions myself:

“Do you know when they’re due?”

“What does ‘soon’ mean?”

“When do you think you will be ready?”

The conversation usually ended there. So, I spent weeks encouraging, cajoling, nagging and yes, at times, raising my voice (OK, yelling); still no movement toward the college application websites. I went through ALL my “internal mom rationalizations.”

Maybe if I stop asking, he’ll actually work on them. (Reverse psychology)

Maybe he’s silently trying to tell us he’s not ready to go to college. (Oh, really?!)

Maybe I just need to be patient and let him figure this out for himself. (But this might bring about my early retirement from motherhood, if you know what I mean.).

In the end, this is how it unfolded in my house with my middle child:

The primary application deadline happened to be on a Saturday (not great timing, in my opinion). My son played his final high school football game on Friday night. Sadly, it was a colossal play-off loss for my son’s team. At noon on Saturday, he was still sleeping. At 2 PM, his bedroom door opened and he found his way to the family room and SportsCenter. It really was more than I could take. And so, at this critical juncture, I left the house – just walked away.

I spent the next several hours walking the dog, running every errand I could think of, and pruning bushes in my yard–and then my neighbor’s.

When I finally did come home, the applications had been submitted.

“What?! You mean you actually submitted them? Who proofed your essay? Who double checked your work?”

His answer shocked me: “No one; this is my process. Haven’t I often overheard you say to the prospective parents you work with that this needs to be their child’s journey?! You’re certainly welcome to read my essay now if you’d like.”

I nearly knocked him over getting to the computer. I tried to remember if there was any way to un-submit, fix errors, and then re-submit a college application.

Until I read it.

And he took my breath away… and—yes—brought me to tears. (Full disclosure: tears come easy for me, but these were legit.) His essay almost caused me to ask, “Who wrote this for you?”

The topic was simple: his last high school football game. The content was spot-on and moving. As an admissions officer, I would have loved reading this essay! As a mom, I couldn’t have been prouder.

While I (like many parents) might have some micro-managing tendencies when it comes to my children, I had to take a big step back and realize that possibly, that football game had to happen, and the application deadline had to be looming for the submission to actually (finally!) happen.

Knowing what I know now, would I have handled this any differently?

I like to think I would nag less, trust more, and embrace the “last minute” for the good work it can often produce. I would encourage parents new to this process to do the same—including walking dogs, running errands and pruning bushes (your own and your neighbors’). The deadlines will come and they will pass, and in all likelihood, students will submit their applications.

Happy Deadline Days!

Carin Smith
Lawrence University Regional Admission Director

Keep Calm and FAFSA On, 2017

Editor’s note: I’ll acknowledge right here that FAFSA isn’t a verb, but neither are most of the other nouns that people will shoehorn into the “Keep Calm and [Something] On” meme to suit their purposes, much as I am here. (Thank you in advance for extending me some creative grammatical license.)

As if high school seniors don’t already have enough on their plates this fall, with…

  • the start of the school year and all the academic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities that come with it (I’m looking at you, Homecoming);
  • the college admission process kicking into higher gear;
  • preparing for the next season of Stranger Things to drop on Netflix;

…we now have a bunch of emails and social media posts reminding us that October 1 is the go-live date for the 2018-19 FAFSA (which means that you can now file your FAFSA for the 2018-2019 college academic year starting on October 1 using your family’s tax returns from 2016).

Here’s the part where I refer again to the title of this blog, but this time with an addendum:

Keep calm and FAFSA on… when you are ready.

Here’s the thing… while the FAFSA is now live, that doesn’t mean you must drop everything and file for financial aid now—though you might hear some chatter from well-meaning and/or freaked out classmates, parents, neighbors, or random strangers who are jumping on their financial aid applications immediately.

This is not the same as concert tickets going on sale today. You won’t find yourself out of a seat if you file your FAFSA on October 15. Or November 15. Or January 15.

More to the point, two things generally have to happen in sequence before you will even receive a financial aid offer from a college:

  1. You have to apply to that college.
  2. You have to be admitted to that college.

And considering that colleges have many different application and financial aid deadlines, we encourage you to check the websites of each of the colleges you’re considering (like Lawrence, for example) to learn when all of their deadlines fall.

Then you can start prioritizing the steps you’ll need to take to move through your own college admission process. To help with that, here are a few College Applicant Power Tips (capitalizing them makes them seem more important, somehow)…

Tip #1: Build your own college admission calendar and plug in all the important deadlines for each of your colleges.

Tip #2: On that calendar, plug in your own dates where you will get things done (e.g., draft application essay, review application essay, file FAFSA, jump for joy with admission from Lawrence, etc.)

Tip #3: Do those things you scheduled using Tip #2.

As for the FAFSA, if you haven’t yet explored the FAFSA and you happen to find animations with a soothing voice-over and a calming piano to be a nice, inviting way to explore unfamiliar topics, we recommend this video, designed by the U.S. Department of Education.

When you’re ready to file your own FAFSA, visit the Department of Education’s FAFSA website where you can dive into way more detail about the FAFSA and, finally, file it.

You can do this.

If you run into questions, feel free to get in touch with us at Lawrence. We’re happy to help.

kcafo

What Batman can teach us about college success

Kate Zoromski is one of Lawrence’s Associate Deans of Academic Success. She works with students in a variety of capacities – from transitioning to college, to facing challenges, to life after Lawrence – to ensure their college experience is a meaningful and productive one. She wrote this post for us in 2014, but it has such good, timeless stuff in it that we want to share it with you again.

(You can learn more about the Center for Academic Success and other services it provides here.)

As I write this, I am preparing to send my second (and last) child off to college. Like so many parents, I am grappling with how quickly we got to this point. I recently came across a picture of her taken on the first day of kindergarten.  She was wearing a bright pink backpack that was nearly as big as she was. Her sweet little face reflected a complex combination of excitement and nervousness.  I remember thinking at the time that I was feeling much the same way! Was she ready? Was I ready?

No doubt, we’ve both learned a lot since then.  But it occurs to me as we get closer to freshman year that we’ve managed to circle around to that same place.  We shopped yesterday for a new backpack (more size-appropriate and not pink).  When she tried it on in the store and looked in the mirror our eyes met, and I know we were both thinking the same thing.  Are we ready for this?

As the parents of college students, we worry about whether or not our kids have what they need. Have we thought of everything they could possibly need for their dorm room? Do they have all their books and school supplies? Do they know where to get their meals or wash their clothes? Do they have enough money? But we also worry about less tangible things:  Are they ready to handle the challenges that come with being a college student? What happens when they need something and we’re not there?

I can’t help but feel that – at least in this one area – I have a slight advantage. I work with college students every day of my professional life. I have watched this journey unfold for thousands of freshmen over the years (including one of my own). And I have learned to trust in their capacity for change and growth, even when they doubt it themselves. I believe my kid can do this. And I believe your kid can, too.

Of course, we all hope our child’s journey will go smoothly. But in college, as in life, they will inevitably face challenges and disappointments. Those of us who work closely with transitioning students know well that how students view the challenges they face significantly impacts their success – in and out of the classroom. And there are simple, easy ways parents can positively impact their children’s ability to handle difficult times.

The research backs me up on this. As parents, we tend to think of our role in our child’s college experience in practical terms; it’s hard not to think of it that way when you’re on your fourth trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond!  But there are also some less concrete things we can do to set our students up for success during their college years.

Help your student understand that struggle and challenge are normal parts of a college experience (and life).

As seasoned adults, we understand struggle and growth go hand in hand. It’s a natural part of life. But, in my line of work, it is not uncommon to meet students who feel strongly that struggle means they simply do not have the ability to succeed. They feel it is a sign of failure, which they perceive as something very negative. And, worse, they feel they must hide the fact they are struggling so no one else discovers what they believe is a weakness. Understanding that challenge and failure are things we all face in times of growth will help students develop the resiliency they need to be successful. If your student knows that their experience is normal, they are more likely to press on.

You may remember this Michael Jordan commercial from a few years back.  He explains in clear terms that he has encountered more than his fair share of failures, but he believes those challenges are what made him so successful.  It is so hard for students to understand sometimes, but failure and success inextricably intertwined.

Encourage “interdependence.”

We spend much of parenthood preparing our students to be independent.  We work hard to make sure they can take care of themselves once they head off on their own. But I often find that students internalize our messages about independence as “if I ask for help when I need it, it means I’m weak.” In fact, they will actively resist seeking out the very resources that could help them overcome the challenges they face. I tell students that what we mean when we stress independence is not that we feel they need to handle everything on their own. We simply mean “we don’t want you to be dependent.” These are two very different ideas!

We want our kids to learn how to solve their own problems so they will be able to take care of themselves. But utilizing resources is one of the ways we build the skills we need to succeed. We learn from others – professors, academic advisors, housing professionals, tutors, peer leaders, counselors, and student success coordinators, for example. Talking with these folks provides a solid pathway to success and in no way signals weakness.

Did you see Batman Begins?  Remember the scene where Bruce Wayne consults with Fox about getting his Batman suit? Fox provides the information and the resources Bruce needs to become the superhero we all know and love. The funny thing is that no one thinks Bruce Wayne is a failure for using the resources available to him. In fact, we all think he’s a brilliant superhero for thinking of Fox and all the technology available in his department. Why is it, then, that our students hold themselves to a higher standard?  Why do they think that asking for help is a sign of weakness?

When we emphasize independence, we run the risk of being misunderstood, which means students don’t get the support they need and deserve. If you can help your child to understand that everyone uses resources to be successful, they will begin to develop the skills they need to face and overcome the obstacles they encounter during their years at Lawrence. Encourage them to be interdependent.

I know better than to tell you not to worry about your student.  I remember asking my mom shortly after my first child was born, “When do you stop worrying about them so much?” She chuckled knowingly and simply said “You don’t.” Will I worry about my own freshman in a few weeks? Absolutely. But it helps to know that she is capable of the kind of change and growth necessary to make it a successful year. Our students are headed into one of the most impactful experiences of their lives. Together, we can help them overcome the obstacles they will face and ultimately find success.

– Kate Zoromski, Associate Dean of Academic Success

The waiting… ugh, the WAITING!

You’ve probably caught on by now that there is a LOT of waiting in the college admission process:

  1. Colleges (and parents) waiting for students to submit applications.
  2. Students (and parents) waiting for schools to respond with offers of admission.
  3. And now, colleges (and parents) waiting for students to make a final college selection.

As impatiently as you may have been waiting for “the big envelope” from us, we now find ourselves on pins and needles (where does that oh-so-appropriate metaphor come from?) wondering which admitted students will respond with the great news that they will be enrolling at our schools.

If you’ve read the previous “Mom blogs” you know that I have three kids—all who have already gone through this process and found a happy home. As each of them approached their final college selection decisions in the spring of their senior years, I experienced some combination of the following, sometimes all at once:

Anxiety                                                              
Part of me was anxious to see what their final decision would be… their seeming lack of urgency with this decision helped stoke this particular fire. (See “impatience” below.)

Introspection
I found many moments (often while folding their laundry or tripping over sports equipment left in the middle of the hallway) when I wondered how much my heart would ache when they finally did leave. Didn’t I just read them bedtime stories last night?

Impatience
I also discovered that during spring of their senior years these wonderful budding adults became, I’ll admit, a bit insufferable. I knew—at least intellectually—their moodiness and/or ambivalence might have been a response to their own concern about their final college decisions and all the emotion wrapped up with high school ending. But, really, I think we all had short fuses in those last weeks leading up to decision day.

Worry

I worried – too much – about whether they would make the “wisest” decision possible. (Translation: would they make the decision I thought would be wisest for them?)

I also learned that I have to follow the same advice that I’ve been giving to parents of college-bound kids for years: it’s not all about you. (It sounds really nice when I give that advice, but it stinks when I have to follow it myself.) Although I knew each of my kids would ultimately make a selection, I quickly discovered that their decision-making methods were very different from each other—and certainly quite different from mine.

My oldest daughter? A methodical list-maker, she devised a 5-point, multiple-category rating system to score each of her schools. It made perfect sense to her, but she didn’t share the results with anyone in our family for several weeks. It needed to settle in her mind before she shared it with anybody else. I was standing in the grocery store checkout line when she called me to “reveal” her decision – I will never forget it, and I presume neither will the checkout clerk, who might have been a bit surprised when I burst into tears for no apparent reason.

My son? Where his older sister trusted “data,” he embraced his inner Obi-Wan Kenobi and trusted “his feelings.” We made return visits to his top three colleges. (This was, if I’m being honest, at my insistence). It was a less scientific process, and the factors he considered were far more superfluous than I thought appropriate:

  • One return visit involved a 5-hour drive (one way) and resulted in a 2-block walk, on our way to the admissions office, at which point he turned to me and said, “This isn’t the one, Mom.” (A FIVE-HOUR DRIVE… PLUS TWO BLOCKS?!) This may come as a shock, but I’m a bit stubborn, which is why I demanded that he go through all the activities the admissions office had so carefully planned for him. (In hindsight, we should have trusted his feelings and gotten back in the car. His feelings were right.)
  • Another visit revealed that the campus was really WAY too close to the stadiums of professional sports teams that were arch rivals of the Chicago sports teams he had grown up rooting for. “Mom, I don’t think I could spend 4 years surrounded by the crazies that cheer for these teams.” My head almost flew right off my body when I heard this one. But his feelings were right.
  • At last, it was the third visit (why couldn’t it have been the first one?) that confirmed itself as “the one.” (I’m resisting the urge to make a Goldilocks “just right” connection here.)

And child #3 was a blissful combination of the olders in that she had a “system” (although not one that she readily shared with us unless we happened to be listening close enough to catch a quick snippet here or there), she made visits – where she allowed herself to be “all in” in order to get the best sense she could for fit and potential. She often didn’t open physical mail but did a fair amount of electronic and social media investigating. Truth be told, she had the benefit of watching this process unfold with her siblings (and several older friends) and she was SO over-anxious to be done with high school and done with the college selection process that the evening the final financial aid award arrived, she sat my husband and I down and simply told us where she would be matriculating the next fall. Not much fanfare or hoopla, but what seemed to be a solid and well-thought-out decision.

Which bring us to what might be your family’s current experience. Whether your child is a list-maker, a dart-thrower, a gut-truster, or some other kind of decision-maker, remember that this process is ultimately about your child.

(OK, it’s about you, too… but I trust you know what I mean.)

The May 1 National Candidates Reply Date is approaching where students nationwide will deliver their “yays” and “nays.”

We’re waiting…

(Ugh, the WAITING!)

May the decision lead your children to colleges that fit them well, wherever that may be.