December: A Time of Decisions and a Dose of Perspective

Bates College campusEmotionally, December is a month of extremes. On the one hand, there’s a palpable sense of relief in the air. Our seniors, many of whom finished the bulk of their applications by December 1st, are finally free of the burden they’ve been carrying for months now: churning out essay after essay, submitting application after application, and somehow managing to resist the urge to toss their laptops against the wall when they are forced, yet again, to address the dreaded “Why do you want to attend our college?” supplement.

And we all understand—counselors and parents alike—because we’ve been right there with them…trying to keep them calm, motivated, and focused as they braced against the yearly tsunami of application requirements and fast-approaching deadlines.

But while the tsunami has receded somewhat, it has left more than mere relief in its wake. There’s also a gnawing sense of worry about what lies ahead. This month—replete with holiday celebrations, family gatherings, and of course the overabundance of food that comes along with them—also marks the first round of college decisions. Students who applied early action or early decision to colleges in early November began receiving their decisions on or around December 15th.

Sometimes these decisions arrive in the traditional form of an envelope waiting for them when they get home, like a holiday gift ready to be opened. But in the Information Age, they often come in the form of e-mail as well, and often at the least opportune times—like during class, where the news seems to become the business of everyone within earshot.

So while they are over the hump, it’s still not easy being a senior this time of year. They’ve been badgered by chatty relatives, family friends, and inquisitive neighbors for months. They’ve quietly measured themselves against their current classmates, their fellow applicants, and of course the daunting fables of the students who came before them. Now, after all that, they’re expected to simply accept whatever result comes their way, good or bad, no matter how deserved or undeserved it might be.

I find myself feeling a bit like a broken record every year at this time, telling my students that no matter what happens, they will be “okay”: that next year at this time, they will be immersed in college finals and chuckling over how stressed out they were during application season.

But of course, I only say it every year because it’s true. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing my former students thriving in their chosen colleges, embracing their new lives and having long since relegated the fading angst of application season to a quaint memory. None of my current seniors can possibly understand that right now, but they will… and soon.

So I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating: no matter what happens—even if you received a rejection or deferral from your dream school—please know that you will be okay. If your son or daughter gets that thin envelope in dreary December, remind them of this—and that, in fact, spring is just around the corner, and the other colleges on their list are waiting to be discovered.

Cassie NicholsDecember: A Time of Decisions and a Dose of Perspective