As a parent, you want your child to be happy. It began when they were infants, and it hasn’t changed. And for some students about to head to college, happiness may mean learning to love their second choice college. They may need your help understanding how to do that
The facts are there. According to a recent study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, fewer than 57% of students in the United States are attending their first choice college. That means that your student may wind up attending their second (or third or fourth) choice of college. It is interesting to note, however, that over 75% of students were admitted to their first choice of school. This means that your student (or you as a family) may make the choice to attend a school other than your student’s initial first choice.
Some research is also suggesting, however, that where your student attends school is going to matter less than their attitude and actions once they get there.
What can I do to help my student make the adjustment?
The first thing that you can do is to honor your student’s disappointment.
If your student was not admitted to their first choice of college, their ego may be bruised. They may feel that they aren’t good enough. Let your student be unhappy for a while. It is a natural reaction. Then try to help them understand that the admission process is based on many, many things. At most schools, many, highly qualified students apply but the admissions office must put together a balanced class. Many factors are considered as the school puts together its freshman class. Many well qualified students will not be accepted. Of course, your student may understand this intellectually, but it is still difficult to feel rejected.
If your student was admitted to their first choice school but must ultimately decide to attend another school for any reason, such as a more favorable financial aid package (a factor for 62% of students who do not attend their first choice school), the disappointment will still be real. There is also an added mental hardship because their first choice school wants them but they must say “No, thank you” to them. This may be especially difficult for your student.
Let your student choose how they would like to share the news with friends and family. If they have been talking about a school for months, or even years, they will need to tell others that they will not be attending that school. Let your student be in control of sharing their story.
Gently remind your student that they are not alone in attending their second choice school, that there is no “perfect” school, that this might be a better fit in the long run, and that their open minded attitude and openness to possibilities will make the difference in their experiences there. But don’t be surprised if your student isn’t convinced at first.
So what should we do now?
Make your deposit to the school on time. Even if your student is on a waiting list for their first choice school, make the deposit. Although this is non-refundable, your student should not risk losing their spot while they wait for something somewhere else. Only a small percentage of students are ultimately admitted from a waiting list.
Revisit the second choice school or visit if your student hasn’t already been there. Help your student try to look at the school differently this time. They are not comparing it to others as much as visualizing themselves there. Imagine buying a new car or new sofa or even a new dress or suit. When you are in the store comparing to others, the decision may be difficult. But once you make the purchase and bring that new car home, you look admiringly at all of its features. Try to help your student view the school with new eyes.
Help them love the school.
Encourage your student to do as much research as they can on their new school – with those new eyes. Relook at the website, the catalog. Find out what classes are offered and what their first year schedule might look like. Have them call the department of their major and ask to talk to a professor about their program. Help them begin to get to know their new school and find the things that excite them.
Encourage your student to look for some of the hidden gems that they may have missed the first time. What clubs and activities might they join? What do they offer in terms of study abroad options, internships, mentorships, research opportunities? Are there interesting community service opportunities? Do they have interesting intersession or summer session opportunities? What does the location have to offer?
Encourage your student to attend any admitted student events such as Accepted Student Day or Orientation. They will meet other students and begin to make connections as well as learn important information about the school.
Be sure to complete all paperwork and required forms on time. Move forward.
What’s the bottom line
Finally, remind your student of two important factors.
This school really wants your student. The school admitted them. (Even if they are on a waiting list somewhere else, that school is not pursuing them as strongly.) This school believes in your student and feels that they are a good fit. Perhaps they are giving your student significant financial aid as an incentive to attend. This is a strong message on the part of the school.
Remind your student that, just like any personal relationship, it takes time to get to know someone and develop a friendship – or romantic relationship. It will take time for your student to get to know their new school. On paper, this might not have been their first choice, but once they open up to the possibilities, they may develop a strong and lasting relationship.
Your student is going to college! That is exciting news! Now they begin the journey of getting to know their new school.