Waiting for College Acceptances: How to Get Through the Anxiety

Main Image for Cheers 2 Chapter 2 Waiting for College Acceptances Page

One of my friends received news last week that her son was accepted to his top choice college on the same day that another friend found out her child received a no.

Having been through this college process twice with one child more to go, it reminded me that waiting for college acceptances to come in is much like standing in a line in gym class waiting to be picked for a team.  Except it feels like the whole world watching.

It may be exhilarating or devastating, but it’s almost certainly an anxiety-ridden time!

Those with a senior who applied to colleges this fall will understand what this worry-fest limbo feels like.

You know your child is capable and ready and would be an asset to whatever school they are dreaming of attending. You know how lucky that school would be to have your child enrolled and a member of their incoming student body.

You’ve spent years telling your child to shoot for the stars…and then they get the rejection letter.

Which these days often comes via cold and impersonal email. Kids end up spending hours every day refreshing and swiping and refreshing their emails waiting for word.

Parents mentally pace and worry and stress and try not to let their kids see how worked up they are.

None of us wants our child to be the last one left standing – not picked by any team – or picked last, defeated and dejected.

Logically, we know as adults that it will all work out in the end, but this is far too personal to feel logical and underneath it all, we don’t want our kids to be disappointed. Or to feel less than. To feel like they weren’t good enough, smart enough, or just plain “enough” for their favorite schools to accept them.

And in the middle of this anxiety, their peers begin receiving acceptances and the pressure to get picked mounts.

Hard work pays off – everyone says.

And for many kids it will be what open doors and maybe even brings in more than one yes.

But it’s not entirely about how hard they worked.

They aren’t always accepted or rejected purely on merit. Kids who have everything possible going for them can be rejected. Seemingly perfect freshman candidates. Top of their class, extracurricular everything. Glowingly outstanding senior specimens according to everything they’ve been told they need to be to succeed at the college acceptance game. No obvious reason they would not be accepted.

And still, some of them still won’t get picked by their top choice school.

We may never know exactly what the magical mystical rubric is that college admissions offices use to decide who gets accepted. There are so many applicants and so far fewer acceptances.

“The 100 most selective colleges and universities in the country had only a 2 – 10% acceptance rate in 2017.” – usnews.com

We do know there are many criteria that make it into the final decision beyond their grades, community service, award-winning college essays and achievements. Details that are out of their control and unrelated to how hard they worked academically; like what state or country they are from, their ethnicity, economic status, gender and intended major.

To be fair, we can’t say those criteria shouldn’t be factored in. No one will argue that diversity is vital and contributes to making a school a healthy environment for kids to learn and grow, both academically and personally.

The point is, when we consider all that goes into a yes or a no, we may not be able to pinpoint the reasons.

No one questions the reasons for an acceptance, we all move right into the glee of being picked.

It’s the rejections that require a bit of processing.

Rejection stings for parents – maybe even more so than for the kids.

After all, we feel responsible for what they have or haven’t accomplished over the past seventeen years. Not to mention that we love the ever-living stuffing out of them and believe they’re capable of anything they dream of (part of the parent gig).

When a school doesn’t pick our kid, they didn’t pick us, and it hurts.

We bury some of our disappointment and frustration but it ends up a useful lesson to talk through on the harsh realities of life and how we learn to move past them.

“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein

So how to get through it?

Here’s the part where I tell you to stop worrying.


While you’re waiting for your child to get picked, you can try to avoid comparisons of what’s happening with their peers.

Remind yourself that for every acceptance being celebrated on social media, there is most certainly a rejection not being shared.

Unfortunately, all the wisdom from having been through the process twice already doesn’t mean I’ll be able to breeze through it with my third child two years from now. Even though I know it will all work out fine in the end and he will succeed no matter where he ends up… it will still be an anxiety-ridden and emotional couple of months.

I will be biting my nails to bloody stumps on the sidelines, just like the first-timers, hoping and praying my kid gets picked for a team.

The only difference for me as I approach this last time around is that I’m more aware than ever of how quickly these next two years will go.

Must be midlife wisdom finally kicking in because it seems to me the only way to slow it down slightly is to be more present in the now of every day.

Overthinking the coming days, weeks, months, years only takes us away from being in this moment and time with our child and seems to put the years into hyper-speed.

Why do that to ourselves?

We’ll be sitting at graduation before we know it, and then worrying about what they should bring to school, and eventually throwing their bags in the trunk and dropping them off at school.

Don’t rush it.

Savor the anxiety (yes, I said SAVOR!) as part of this big year of growth and milestones.

You’ll get through it and so will your child.

Cheers to surviving, to savoring and to slowing down the days – to working on being in the moment, especially on the average days, and to being as fully present for our kids as we possibly can.

– Marlene

Could you relate to this post? You might also enjoy reading Learning to Let Go – The Big Shut Out, He Left for College; And Did I Die? and The Single Most Important Thing to Pack for College


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