Waiting for college admissions decisions to arrive

This blog was penned by our colleague, Carin Smith, who served as our Chicago-based regional admission director for 18 years before she decided to hang up her Lawrence gear and tackle the next big challenge in her life, which will move her closer to two of her now-college-graduate children who live in the San Francisco Bay area. Even though she has moved on, the advice is still spot-on.

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.

With each child, 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 (or post online):

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 any of my colleagues in the Lawrence Admissions Office if they can be of assistance to you.

13 thoughts on “Waiting for college admissions decisions to arrive”

  1. Hello Carin,
    The notification date this year is Saturday, December 15.
    When can we legitimately corner the mail carrier and ask them if that’s really all they have for us? Tuesday, December 17? Friday, December 21?
    Thanks and regards, Holly

    1. Thanks, Holly! Luckily, the admissions staff also releases decisions online (which may be less exciting than holding the big envelope in our hands), to get around the rain and wind and sleet and snow (or weekend dates) that sometimes challenge the US Postal Service.

  2. What a perfect article to come the parents nerves! Thank you for writing this coming both from a parent and admissions point of view! So appreciated. We’re looking forward to hearing from Lawrence University shortly regarding Zachary’s application. Thank you again for this information. Susan Betsworth

    1. Exciting times, no matter how helpless the whole process can make us feel sometimes!

  3. Thank you, yet again, for your reassurance in the process and your real life examples confirming that I am not alone in my crazy behavior of stalking the mail carrier. Natalie and I are [not so] patiently awaiting word from Lawerence University. December 15th can’t come soon enough.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this really very poignant experience. Our kids need perspective on this stressful yet exciting process, and so do we as parents. It helps to read your description, and to have an opportunity to “share” the journey.

  5. This is an excellent post — thank you very much for your personal and professional perspective, both of which are so valuable.

    Kathryn Smith

  6. Great article! Thank you to the Lawerence team and yourself for sharing these thoughts. Myself and a lot of my friends are going through this for the first time. Times have certainly changed since we went to college. The admissions process is more complicated and decisions on where to go to college seem so much more daunting than ever before. I have enjoyed the experience with my daughter through this journey of her college search . I have one more to go in two years. This article speaks to me in many ways as we wait for the envelopes to arrive!
    Laura Hass

    1. Best of luck to you and your friends – having a posse of support is invaluable! Good luck to all of you (and your children). I do find that a few glasses of good wine can be helpful as well.


  7. Thanks for writing this! I’m a first (and only) time parent of a senior high school student, and it is really refreshing to read this! God bless you for going through this process three times!! My parents did it six times, don’t know how they managed. Anyway, my son Alexander Temple has applied to Lawrence and we are anxiously awaiting that letter. You have a difficult job. Laura Temple.

    1. Hi Laura,

      My parents also did this 6 times (for the life of me…………..I’ll never know how). I do know the times were very different and the process was WAY different. Kudos to you for embracing the process and walking through it with Alex; I hope you’ve managed to enjoy it as much as I have.


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