To pacing prospective parents, waiting for letters to arrive

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

I 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.

Twice. (And I’m about to go through it again a third time with my junior daughter.)

Six years ago (with my oldest daughter) and four years ago (with my son), I was 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 admission is my profession—which means I’m supposed to have a pretty firm handle on “how this process works”—these were MY OWN CHILDREN going through this process, which meant that most of my professional perspective sat on the sidelines while the mother in me took center stage. Like any other parent, I was excited and proud of my kids. If I’m being honest, I was nervous for them, too.

What if they didn’t get in?

What if they did?

I knew that the size of the envelope mattered. Big ones meant good news. Small ones… well, I didn’t want 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 does things the old-fashioned way like Lawrence does by using paper, envelopes, 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 I 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 term or semester grades, an interview, a box of chocolate chip cookies, etc.) from the applicant. 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.

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 this admissions staff not see the good qualities and potential in my child? Who do they think they are?

“They” are my colleagues. 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 did finally arrive at my house (and with a couple, I know I hugged my mailman). Most of them elicited 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 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 each of them off at their freshman dorms, which, whether they are in the same city or a time zone or two away, were still too far away from their bedrooms upstairs for my taste. I am so proud of them, and they are thriving.

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 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

12 thoughts on “To pacing prospective parents, waiting for letters to arrive”

  1. Thank you for your comforting article. At this writing my daughter, as well as my husband and I, are eagerly awaiting and hoping for a big envelope from Lawrence admissions. I will be happy and pleased for my daughter if she is accepted, but at the same time sad because I will miss not having her under my roof each day. Yet if Lawrence is going to be her new “home” then I think it truly will be a great place for her.

  2. Thank you Carin for the laughs and the tears (fellow crier here). This is our first son and I know I am driving him crazy through this process, lol. So glad to know other Moms go through it too.

  3. Carin and Shari, I wish the three of us could sit together for sharing tears and tea. Amazing synchronicity in timing – I too am the mother of a Lawrence applicant (her finger nearing the ‘send’ button), AND the mother of two college students. Like Shari, I’m not worrying about admissions, but simply noticing the emotions of this poignant time – hoping that what she chooses as her new college ‘home’ will not feel too far FOR ME from her actual one. I was uplifted knowing that my weepy sentimentality is shared by other moms facing this same threshold. Many thanks.

    1. What about wine? Could we share some of that as well, or does it have to wait until you both drop yours off (maybe at Lawrence!!).

      Do you remember when they were little and people told us the “time would go so fast?” – and sometimes I wished it would – but I could NEVER have imagined how accurate those words really are.

      Deep breath ladies.

  4. I am the mother of two in college (sophomore and junior) and a current Lawrence admissions candidate. Due to my longstanding policy of benign neglect, I have no concern about admissions. However, I am at the moment crying. Thank you for the beautifully written article.

  5. So well put I shared with all of my senior mom pals going through this for the first time….and admitted to the tears shed as well.
    I especially appreciate your comment “To knowingly put students into situations where they are highly unlikely to be successful would be irresponsible on our part.”
    I cannot agree more…thanks for the posting!

  6. I am the mother of a current Lawrence applicant and the mother of two college students (a sophomore and a junior). Not at all concerned about admissions, but also crying at the moment. Thank you for a beautifully written and relatable article.

    1. You’re very kind! I’ve learned to just keep the tissues near the mailbox and try very hard not to completely stalk my mail delivery person.

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