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Admit, Defer, Deny: How to Support Your Student through Early Admissions Decisions

Amy Romm Lockard


Language. It can shape an experience, enhance it, diminish it, even completely reframe it.

If you are the parent of a college applicant, particularly one who applied Early Action or Early Decision, some powerful language will soon head your way.

Accepted. Deferred. Denied.

These three words conjure a wide range of feelings in all of us, from joy to grief, yet there is one feeling we often neglect to entertain as we watch our students, the weight of the world on their shoulders, warily open their envelopes and emails.

That feeling is one of responsibility.

You — as the loving, wise, mature adults in the lives of your students — will help shape these powerful, college-related moments with your own reactions. A jump for joy, a hug, a palm smack to the table, even a well-intended social media post can speak volumes to students who, at this tender time, may personalize your reaction as commentary on their value.

Whatever the outcome of a student's admission decisions, it is essential for us as adults to take a deep breath and manage our own emotions appropriately. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate your student's college acceptances, deferrals and denials.

Accepted.

You’re probably scratching your head wondering why the heck I would offer advice to parents whose students were accepted into college, but hear me out.

After learning their student was accepted into college, some parents go bananas, calling everyone they know and posting generously on social media. Celebration is absolutely called for in this case (great job, kid!!), but consider keeping the celebration focused on the job well done, not on the name of the college.

Tell your student how proud of them you are. Acknowledge the effort they put in over these past four years and particularly the last few months. Encourage them to keep up the great work as they continue with senior-level classwork. Foremost, teach your student to celebrate effort over brand name, so that, no matter where they land in life, they will put forth a valiant effort.

If you would like to post on social media, first ask your student for permission. Though their acceptance into college is exciting news to you, it is, after all, their news, and they may wish to share it in a different fashion or with a limited audience.

Also keep in mind that college admissions is an unfortunate breeding ground for comparison. While you enthusiastically share that your student was admitted to College X, another parent is likely coming to terms with their student’s deferral or denial. Should you choose to share this news, keep in mind the circumstances other parents of college applicants may be navigating.

The Decision is TBD.

Your student was deferred by a college, meaning the college would like to re-review your student’s application in the context of the Regular Decision applicant pool.

A deferral can elicit mixed feelings: disappointment that the applicant was not accepted and relief that the opportunity is not off the table. Consider this an exercise in how you handle adversity and what you would like to model to your student, who, in less than a year, will need to navigate adversity on their own.

Model acceptance. This isn’t the decision your student wanted, but it’s the reality of things. Model resilience. This college is not off the table. What steps can your student now take to reinforce to Admissions they are a good candidate? (Hint: the student can call the Office of Admissions to reiterate their continued interest in the college as well as email any happy developments since the time the application was submitted. These may include new honors, awards, or activities.)

The Decision is Unfavorable.

Rejection stings at any age. Your student may have envisioned themselves at a particular college only to now learn that college is completely off the table. Naturally, this will hurt, and it should. We cannot shelter our students from all of life’s disappointments. We can, however, give them our love and support and help them get back on their feet afterwards.

After your student has taken a few days to grieve, you can help put things in perspective. Other doors likely remain open. It’s early, so chances are, your student doesn't have all of their decisions in hand yet. If your student created a well-balanced lists of colleges, they should hopefully have some acceptances to look forward to.

Additionally, think back on what it is your student loved about this particular college. Chances are there are numerous other schools that offer something similar. If you haven’t already, connect with a college-wise adult like a school counselor or college consultant who can help your student identify colleges similar to this one. Look at opportunities at these colleges that weren't available at the original school. Most Regular Decision deadlines run January through March; there is still time to apply to additional colleges if needed.

The road to college can have unexpected bends and potholes.

Most students receive some deferrals and/or denials mixed in with the acceptances. At the end of the day, however, most students have a wonderful experience at college, and those who don’t have the option to transfer.

If you or your student feel stressed, ask yourself this: was there only one high school in the country that could equip your student to be successful? Of course not, and the same can be said for colleges. There are any number of colleges and universities where your student can be happy, healthy and successful. Take heart in that knowledge, so that when those college decisions arrive, you can be a rock for your student.

Founder of Dovetail College Consulting, Amy Romm Lockard is a trusted college admission expert who helps students identify their best fits in careers, colleges and other post-secondary options. A former school counselor, college counselor and teacher, Amy advises students of all personalities, backgrounds, identities and needs. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest and loves to hear from readers. Visit her website at www.dovetailcollegeconsulting.com or e-mail her at [email protected]
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