“You are so smart. So creative. So talented. So wonderful…” And so we have told our 17-year-old daughter for the last 17 years of her life.
But possibly, in just a few days’ time, she will be told she just isn’t enough.
Not smart enough. Not creative enough. Not talented enough. Not wonderful…enough.
Before the end of the year, she will receive a letter from her top choice, the school she applied to Early Action. And this letter will either confirm that all her hard work, time, studying and tears has been worth it, or that it really wasn’t enough to earn her a place in the future she was imagining. If she doesn’t get in, then she has two weeks to get all of her applications sent out by the January 1st deadline. And then wait for another few months, wondering if she will get into any of those schools.
So much focus is put on the practical steps of the college touring process, research, applications, fees and ensuring it’s affordable. But there’s little available that addresses the emotional toll on both parents and children.
Attending college is a four-year commitment at a fairly young age, and an investment of money (in most cases, by the parents, but increasingly, the financial burden is on the student to repay loans or work toward paying tuition. The cost of a college education will not be matched until she buys a house. Where to attend is a huge decision with a lot of factors including academic reputation, excellence in an area of study that a student might want to pursue, social environment, geography and so many other things to consider. And at the end of the day, we have no idea who or what will decide if she will get accepted or rejected, and why.
And a rejection will be crushing. For it is a rejection of who she is. How she has done. How she performed academically. How smart and capable she is. Of course, admissions decisions are made because of many factors, including an overabundance of great applicants, but this feels – even to me – like the decision will be personal, and it is completely out of our hands. And that is the tough thing for me as a parent.
As her mother, I want to build her up. I want to tell her she can do anything she puts her mind to. I want to pump her up to be confident and assure her that she has a great shot. And she does. But there is no guarantee. She is applying to competitive schools, schools she is passionate about and wants to attend. And no, she doesn’t really have too many back-ups, because the whole idea of the “safety” school seems to contradict everything we have raised her to believe. We have never suggested that she settle for anything, never told her to take second best. So when it comes to this enormous time and financial commitment, how can we now advise that she go for the fall-back, accept an option that may not only not be her first choice, but possibly the option that is her last choice?
We are about a week away from knowing what will happen. We are obviously hoping for the best. And there really is no preparing for the worst. If she doesn’t get in to her top choice, she will apply to other schools. If she doesn’t get into those, she will take a gap year and reapply a year later. Not ideal, but beats settling.
For the first time as parents there will be a decision, completely outside of our realm, that will judge her. That we will have no choice but to accept. We cannot call the university and discuss it. We cannot ask for them to reconsider or reevaluate. We have passed the stage where we can call a teacher to discuss a grade, or call another child’s parent to talk through a disagreement between our children.
I guess this is the first step in her adulthood. And our first step in letting her go. She will have to deal with the outcome, and as much as we will help her with whatever steps she chooses to take, they will be her steps to take. But in the meantime, there is nothing to do but wait. And to know that December 15th will either be the best day of her life, or what will feel like the worst.
Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion.org, a social mosaic which perpetuates the arts, sciences, literature, and music through Jewish tradition. She was also the creator and editor of TheJewishWoman.org and has worked as a producer for shows relating to Judaism on the Oprah Winfrey Network and HARPO Productions. She lives with her family in Danby, Vermont where they run Jewish experiential retreats.