It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year….Unless it Isn’t.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year….Unless it Isn’t.

Well, here we are. The most wonderful time of the year.

The time of the year when colleges start releasing their admissions decisions.

In case you have not picked up on it, I am being sarcastic.

For college-bound seniors, this is one of the more stressful times of the year.

This is the time when narratives go into overdrive. Our book is now in extra large print so that everyone can see what’s inside.

If you (or your student, depending on who is reading this) get into their top choice, you (and your student) walk proudly with that extra large print book happy to be noticed. Heck, you may even make some copies to pass out just to be sure that everyone knows all your hard work and efforts have paid off.

Congratulations. You deserve this. You deserve to be proud of yourself. This is what you have been working toward. FINALLY, the fruits of your labor are in full bloom.

But What If…..

But what if you didn’t get an acceptance letter?

What if you worked just as hard as your friend who got accepted, but you didn’t?

Don’t you deserve to be proud of yourself? Doesn’t your hard work deserve to be rewarded?

Why yes. Yes, it does.

But sometimes it just isn’t.

This is a time for many when they learn for the first time that life isn’t fair. I sat in the role of a School Counselor for over 15 years. I have seen all kinds of things happen.

  • People with 3.2 GPA’s getting into schools that say they require a 3.8
  • People with 4.0 GPA’s getting denied from schools that say they need a 3.8
  • People who feel deflated and hopeless
  • People who feel euphoric and hopeful

This is also the time of year when we start re-writing our narrative based on this decision. I see people starting to assign a meaning to a rejection letter that tells them that they are not smart and not going to be successful at life (go back and read the article Nothing Causes Anxiety to learn about how we assign meaning).

They have decided that their story has been written for them…..in high school.

The problem is the students who didn’t get into their top choice school are walking around with a large print, bold story just like their peers who got accepted. The difference is that they would give anything to not let other people see it.

That’s a shame.

I don’t know about anyone else, but if my life trajectory was decided for me in high school, I would be in some pretty bad shape.

Maybe I was lucky because I grew up in a much less stressful time, or maybe a much less stressful place, I don’t know. In my world, going to college in and of itself was celebrated. I never gave a second thought, nor did anyone give me the side-eye when I was not only accepted to Eastern Michigan University, but I was proud of it.

So many of my classmates opted for community college for their first two years. They were celebrated just as much as those who were accepted to what we now label more esteemed Universities.

Why Are We Doing This to Students?

Sometimes the feeling of imperfection can be overwhelming. All of us walk around with some level of impostor syndrome. You know, the feeling like you are wearing a mask that, at any moment, someone is going to take off and discover that you are really an idiot walking around in a smart person’s body? No? Just me?

In a school like Groves, the stakes are high. Anything less than an A is often considered a failure. This thinking is damaging in so many ways. The first, and most important is that it allows zero room for risk and aides in the perfectionism syndrome.

Somewhere along the way, students have gotten the message that they cannot go to college without getting straight A’s, and maybe the occasional B. I blame all of us for giving them this message. It is our fault that 17 and 18-year-olds feel “less than” because they didn’t get into their top college.

Not that they didn’t get into college, but that they didn’t get into their first-choice college.

These messages of success being tied to high-stakes standards are the cause of much of the anxiety that high school students face.

  • What are we getting from giving our students the message that a school that requires a 2.8 to get into is a “bad” school?
  • What are we getting from telling our students that they must be high achievers in everything that they do?
  • What are we getting from co-signing their anxiety about getting into x, y, or z college?

I can’t put my finger on why we are doing it, but I know what we are getting from it.

  • We are getting students who put so much pressure on themselves to be the best that anything less than an A feels like a failure.
  • We are getting students who want to drop classes at the first sign of struggle because it might mess with their GPA
  • We are getting students who are believing that they are “better” than community college because they “deserve” to go to a four-year University.
  • We are getting students who feel shame about not getting into their first-choice school.

I want to pause for a minute because this is something we need to absorb.

OUR STUDENTS ARE FEELING SHAME ABOUT NOT GETTING INTO THEIR FIRST-CHOICE SCHOOL

In other words, they are feeling like there is something wrong with who they are as a person because of a decision that was made by people at a round table that do not even know them.

This Needs to Stop

We need to end this faulty message of success. Success does not have one path. It does not look the same for everyone. By telling our students that success is a one size fits all equation, we are slowly debilitating them if they do not fit into that equation. And even if they can, their anxiety might spike to the point of perfectionism, which can be equally debilitating.

I have some unpopular news:

  • It doesn’t matter if you go to U of M or EMU.
  • It does not matter if you start at a community college
  • It does not matter if you decide to not go to college and decide instead to go to a trade school

Students might not get into some schools without getting straight A’s, but I guarantee that if they want to go to college, they will go somewhere. And they are all good colleges.

Also, who said that the best school is one that is really hard to get in? That my friends, is what we refer to as malarkey.

Here is My Disclaimer So That I  Don’t Get Hate Mail

I am not saying that grades are not important. I hate that they are, but they are. They are a means to an end. However, the importance of education needs to outweigh the importance of grades. They are two very different things. I mean, haven’t you ever met an idiot who graduated from an Ivy League?

My suggestion is that we put more emphasis on learning and less on grading. I PROMISE you, if the goal is to be educated, the grade will follow.

So instead of looking at the outcome of a test or a homework assignment, or even a final grade, look at how much you or your child tried in that class. If they put everything that they had into it and came out with a C, celebrate that. Your kid has a good work ethic. Also, how would you feel if you tried as hard as you could and then were told how disappointment people were in you?

Equally, if your child got an A but totally slacked off, acknowledge the A, but take some time to let them know that this is not something that they will be able to sustain forever. In fact, sometimes those who get a hard C end up more successful in life than those who get easy A’s because they know how to work for it.

Back to College

So back to the season of joy, distress, anxiety, and hope.

Getting into a top-choice school is fantastic. I hope you celebrate and shout it from the rooftops. You deserve it!

If you did not get into your top-choice school, I want you to celebrate that too.

WHAT?!?!?!?

Have you ever really wanted something, didn’t get it, got super upset, but then realized later that not getting what you wanted actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise?

College is no different.

Like I tell the students, don’t beg to date someone that doesn’t want you. Likewise, don’t beg to be admitted to a school that doesn’t want you.

Wherever your student goes, they will be successful because they will be exactly where they are supposed to be.

This concludes this entry of everything that is in my head will come out in words article.

Article by:
Monica Fugedi
Wellness Counselor
mfugedi@birmingham.k12.mi.us

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