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December – The Cruelest Month for Seniors

By Robert LeVine

The college application season is intense. Applications open in August. Early applications are due by November. Most regular-decision applications for selective colleges are due by January. Then, sometime in March, the final decisions are released.

Yet December is the cruelest month of all. During the second week of December, students will learn about their “early” schools, the ones that they have dreamed about for years. This is when the colleges say that the statistical advantage of early application will vault YOU into their classes!

This is also when, for up to 90 percent of applicants, the news is not good. The second week is when your child is deferred or outright rejected by their favorite college.

Just before midterm exams, just before the holiday season, just before winter break, students are crushed. They cry, they become depressed, they become damaged emotionally. Then, they must finish all of those college applications, the countless essays that they did not write because they held out sincere hope that their dream school would say YES.

What can parents do or say when their child’s dreams are shattered?

First, be ready for it all to happen. Prepare yourself for your student’s rejection. Think about what you want to say to them, what you want to do for them, how you want to guide them through a painful period of doubt and self-doubt.

Second, commiserate with them. Before trying to guide your kids in the right direction, allow their emotional release. Show them and tell them that you are bothered, too. Give them a little space, but not too much. Be a part of their misery so that you can be a part of the answer.

Third, understand and explain the reality. Colleges admit very few students, and they evaluate the applicants based upon the limited information submitted in an application. Universities don’t really know or understand prospective students. They only review an electronic file. That file may perfectly reflect a candidate, but it may not. If an application is like a selfie, is it a good selfie, one of the few that not only looks like the person but also makes the person look good? Or is it one of those snapshots that we reject and retake, and retake, and retake …

Fourth, recognize that application season is a narrow window of time. Age 17 is a moment in a life not fully formed. Students mature at different times, in different environments, with different resources, and with different influences. It’s not fair that our futures are determined based upon our pre-mature paths, but that’s the system.

Finally, ask how you can help. If a student is going to become an adult, they must learn to manage the resources around them, including human resources. Let them be the boss. For now, be their assistant. Do what you can and provide whatever resources you can reasonably provide. Instead of pushing them to finish, make them take the lead. Although the job of completing applications can seem almost impossible, it’s really not THAT hard. It’s the pressure and emotion that makes it seem hard.

When all seems lost, remember one thing: December will pass, and by April it will be long forgotten. The great thing about college admissions is that almost everybody finds a new home that they’ll adore. College, unlike all of the schooling that has come before, is their place, away from home, finally out of the daily prison of classrooms that has been the entirety of their lifetime education. Most students LOVE college, so life will soon be bright and exciting in a way that they have yet to experience. Just be ready in case that happy time doesn’t happen in December.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email [email protected] or visit

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