This one goes out to the parents by Matt McGann '00
It's been a while since I've written specifically for you.
Earlier this week, I attended an event in Washington DC where I got to meet two parents (hello!) who follow the blogs. They tell me that, despite the small number of comments from parents, there is a large population out there of parents who are readers of the blog. While most of those who leave comments are applicants, I would love to hear from some of the many parents out there. It would be great to “meet” you!
The college admissions season can be a particularly anxious time for students. I remember waiting for decisions, being both excited and very scared. Of course, all of my friends and relatives would constantly ask, “Where are you going to college?” “What schools have you applied to?” “When do you get a decision?” and so on. With so much uncertainty, and their hopes so high, it often made me dread talking to people during entire application and decision season.
Looking back, I realize that my parents were my rock. They consoled me when I didn’t get in, celebrated with me when I did, drove me to visit my college choices, asking good questions while staying neutral. My parents helped keep me on task while filling out applications, took care of financial aid forms (thank you so much!), and even drove me to the post office so I could get an application postmarked right before the deadline. Being a first generation college student, we were flying blind a lot of the time, but together, we figured it all out, successfully navigating the process. It really was a great opportunity for my family to strengthen our bond.
So, belatedly, thank you, Mom and Dad. I love you.
To my parent-readers out there, I’d also like to thank you for helping your daughters and sons through the process. They may not explicitly thank you now, but I assure you they are very thankful.
Getting ready for the decision
A critical job for parents is to make sure that young people don’t interpret disappointing admissions decisions as a terrible verdict on their worth as a human being. Many students describe finding the right school for them as a little like falling in love: one trip to the campus and they “just knew.” That kind of intense emotional connection can make it especially distressing if an application is denied.
No matter how confident you are of your son’s or daughter’s abilities and college chances, it’s a good idea to find some way, perhaps long in advance, of talking about disappointments or reversals in your own life. That way, whatever the outcome, your child will know that it is all right to feel hurt, frustrated, even heartbroken – but that the hurt eventually goes away, life goes on and other doors inevitably open.
Dealing with disappointment
If a letter from a college brings sad news, you may feel tremendous frustration and disappointment. But your job at that moment is to manage your own reaction so you can help your child move forward with confidence. If your child is not accepted for admission, it is not a reflection on your skill as a parent, nor a reflection on the worth of your child. Most often, rejections are due to too many excellent applicants and too few available spaces. Your support and encouragement are obviously especially important if your child is not admitted to his or her first-choice school.
In the face of serious disappointment, children (even very mature 17- year-olds) suffer more than adults because they have less perspective. Help your child look around at other adults you know living happy, fulfilling lives. Almost certainly, they did not all attend the “perfect” college, nor did their lives proceed “perfectly” after that. There are many, many paths to becoming an interesting, successful person; one of life’s hardest but most useful lessons is that we don’t always get to choose which one we take.
Finding the right fit
For your son or daughter, the college search and application process should be about one thing only: finding the right fit. Does that mean finding a school where he or she will blend in without a trace? Not necessarily. Does it mean that there’s only one perfect school for every applicant? Obviously not. Fit means finding a community where your child shares the fundamental values and priorities, and feels comfortable enough to take the social and intellectual risks that make college really worthwhile.
Fit is also a two way proposition. Your child’s job is to find the school that feels right. Our job in Admissions is to choose – from among thousands of qualified applicants – the students we think are most likely to thrive in and contribute something important to the community of MIT.
Again, does that mean there is some “ideal” MIT student, and if your son or daughter can only match that magic profile, he or she is in for sure? Fortunately, no – or MIT would be a horribly dull place. You and your child know his or her strengths and potential; we know the strengths and potential of MIT. The goal is to find the right match between the two.
Again, thank you to all of the parents out there, and I hope you’ll say a quick hello below in the comments!