Perception can change everything. I was complaining recently about something not going my way, and a friend reminded me about the neighborhoods in Syria being bombed daily, a roof over my head from the recent winter rain storm, you get the picture. My friend got me thinking–how do we maintain a realistic view without falling into pessimism or optimism? I suppose, if I could answer that question in this single blog post, Oprah would be calling me soon. But, I do see parents and teenagers wrangling with this question, especially Seniors and their parents, who’re busy waiting for colleges to respond about admissions for next Fall. (I say, busy waiting, since their minds can be a flurry of thoughts and emotions about who’s getting in where and what does that mean for me, in addition to: how the Heck are we going to pay for college anyways?)
The speculation about college admissions is rampant this time of year. And, earlier than expected responses from colleges, even for students who applied by the regular decision deadlines, can add to the armchair forecasting by families and Seniors. Here’s where the reality can cross into pessimism/optimism: the reality is some Seniors have received a response with merit aid from a college, while other Seniors who’ve applied to the same college by the same deadline, have not received a response. Now, for the student without a response, pessimism can set in–wondering why no response has been received, if there is something deficient about my application, if there was something else to be done to be accepted sooner rather than later. And, for the student with the response, a mix of optimism and pessimism can set in–wondering if all the college will respond with acceptances, if there’s additional meaning behind receiving such an early response, which college will be best for me to pick. Parents can find themselves simultaneously straddling optimism, pessimism and realistic expectations; by virtue of experience, parents know that everything in the end will work as its supposed to, and try valiantly to share that perspective with their teenage offspring with a range of outcomes. At the same time, parents can be susceptible to the same speculative optimism and pessimism as their teenagers; sometimes aloud with their teens and sometimes commiserating with colleagues at work or in the bleachers with other parents. The personal nature of college admissions with the potential validation (or questioning) of years of educational efforts can be a rich environment for speculative pessimism and optimism, screaming for a dose of realism to calm nerves.
In my 12th year witnessing Seniors and their families sitting through these months of waiting (i.e. the time between hitting the submit button on college applications and receiving a response from the college), the up and down roller coast between pessimism, optimism and realty is typical and survivable. The maturing that happens for teens weathering one of the first (if not THE first) time in risking rejection is invaluable and inevitable. There is no easy way or one way to smooth the stress of this time period. Realistically, there may be disappointing results, and there may be unexpected outcomes. In the end, there will be great stories to tell grandchildren, friends, future mates, other parents, cousins…about surviving the stress of waiting for college admissions decisions. In the meantime, know there will be days when the glass seems half full and others when the glass is half empty; and days when the glass will seem full and empty simultaneously. That’s where we have friends to help ground us or at least, share that they’re under the same stress–then eat ice cream or play Black Ops to temporarily take our minds off the stress.