Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Helping Students with Admissions Decisions—A Couple of Things to Avoid

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The last few college decisions are coming out this week, so your office will soon be filled with all kinds of students who have received all kinds of news.  As you try and meet these very different needs, here are a few responses you may want to hold off on, at least for now.

The News is Theirs to Share  The entire school community has invested a great deal into the college applications of every senior.  From teachers to counselors to those in charge of transcripts, it truly does take a village to apply to college, and everyone hopes for the best outcome.

That sense of teamwork has no limits when it comes to applying, but it should have some limits when it comes to sharing the decisions—that’s the student’s job.  This is especially true when there’s good news; you may want to go running into the faculty room with news of every “Yes”, but part of the fun in getting in is when the student gets to see the genuine look of delight on the face of everyone they tell.  This is hard, but you’re a pro; if you have to, send a memo to the faculty, reminding them why you can’t share the news, and encouraging them to do the same, letting the student revel in the moment of glory, or be allowed the best way to share a rejection or deferral.

The Safety Net Exception  The one and only time this “Students First” rule is broken is if you are certain a student is having an exceptionally hard time living with a rejection, but isn’t quite ready to talk about it.  Students experiencing this frustration usually don’t come by your office, so you’ll have to keep your antennae up, and spend ample time in the hallways.

If you discover a student who might have a tough time making it through the day, go easy—there’s a good chance they aren’t ready to talk about it, or they would have sought you out.  If they turn down your invitation, get the word out to their teachers—this is best done in person—and let the teachers know you’re there to offer support. 

Rushing the “Plan B” Discussion  Students who do come in to share the news of a No usually come in two groups.  The first group comes in to let you know they were denied, and have decided to go to a different college.  These students generally come in for affirmation, not counseling—and they also come in to reach closure.  If they volunteer their new plan, the best thing to do is offer a modest condolence for the rejection, congratulate them on their choice, and thank them for the chance to work with them.

Students in the second group come in and simply tell you they’ve been denied.  When you offer a response, they may quote parts of therejection letter about the number of students who applied, but they haven’t really digested the information—they’re more on auto-pilot, and are asking for help working through the news. 

All kinds of good strategies can come into play here, but looking too far down the road isn’t one of them.  They may not say it, but they already know they’ll need to make another choice, and most of them realize that college will work out well—but right now, they need to review their process, remember their worth, and get ready for next hour.  Focus on those three objectives, and they’ll come back to discuss the Big Picture another day.

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