March Madness: It's Admission Decision Season

Mar 15, 2017

March Madness: It's Admission Decision Season

Guest post by Harry Nerenberg, College Counselor at Miami Palmetto Senior High

March Madness! The NCAA basketball countdown is easy compared to the college selection process for our students who are now receiving the decisions from the “love of their lives.” That's how the students see it.

We college advisors try to teach them that the application process is a business decision and that selection to a top choice university is not as important as buying a house, getting married, or even finding the true love of one’s life. Yet, despite our advice, students make the process an emotional affair, coming to us to celebrate their successes or to mope in despair. And then, there are those in purgatory – those stuck on the dreaded waitlist.

The celebration of students getting into their choice school is short lived once reality strikes. The ability to “afford and attend” can be the icing on the cake or the pit in cherry. There are so many variables impacting these still-maturing 18-year-olds. This is the first real business decision in their lives; they have to look at the costs and distance to realize what “a good fit” really means.

I’ve tried telling my students that attending a university is just like leasing a car. It’s a four-year lease, and they get to return it after the term of the lease is over. It gets them where they need to go, and then they return it. I’ve tried to explain that a BMW rides like a FORD; it will get them where they need to go. But, during the stressful college decision process, all of my metaphors fall on deaf ears.

We college advisors often like to say, “It doesn’t matter where you go, it’s what you do when you get there." But I wonder how this sounds to a student denied admission from his or her first choice school? The weight of being denied or waitlisted makes these words of wisdom powerless. Yet, we college advisors know that these students will survive; they will be okay.

For many students, college is a dream come true, but the reality of affordability requires a pragmatic response. When parents say, “We’ll make it work,” I feel their doubt, and worse, I internalize the emotions of the guild-laden child. There are so many variables these 18-year-olds have to consider as they make the first business decision of their lives. For many it’s a dream come true, but for others, it’s a reality check. Dreams are so different when we are awake.  

As college basketball players enter into their championship game, they must appreciate that they played a great season, and throughout that season, each made turnovers. Bad calls from the referees changed the outcome of games. The same is true of the college application process. All of the things we told our students to consider are resulting in acceptances, rejections, and ultimately - choices. Now, for students in the midst of their own March Madness, the second-guessing begins about their futures.

What students don’t realize is that wherever they go, they are going to meet their new best friends. Professors, mentors, and peers will motivate them academically and socially. They may even meet their future spouse. In this March Madness, those of us who work with students need to help them understand that each option they have will lead down a unique path, following its own timeline, toward an exciting new reality.