Most of the posts on this blog are directed at the students. Sorry, kids. This one is for your parents. I have an assignment for them.
So, Mom and Dad: Your college applicant will be getting the last few college decisions very soon. In a weird and sort of cruel coincidence, these decisions often arrive when families are spending more time together during spring break. Maybe you’re driving in a car on a cross-country road trip or binge watching Gilmore Girls together. Every blip on the phone is loaded with potential joy or sadness. When you hear it, instead of asking “What does it say? Did you get in?,” do this instead:
You’re going to write a letter. An old-fashioned one. On paper.
Your letter is more important than those letters. Those letters are about what your child has done. Your letter is about who your child is. Those letters are about your child’s future. Your letter is about your child’s present.
It’s not a letter full of advice. That will come later, maybe on the drive to college when your car is crammed to the roof with clothes, a desk lamp, a brand-new Target sheet set, and a hidden favorite stuffed animal. It’s not a letter full of regret. That may come later, when your child is miles away and you wonder if you did everything you could. (Of course you did!)
It’s a letter that shows your child that no matter what acceptance or rejection letters come their way, they are good enough. Right now. The way they are.
There’s plenty of research that shows that someone’s college choice does not determine success in life. Frank Bruni is one of my favorites. But all the social science evidence in the world means little if your son or daughter thinks that it does. And they just might think that. Their friends will immediately post where they got in. Their high school might have a “wear your college” t-shirt day. They might even have heard this message from you at some point. And as a parent, I too wonder if my kids’ choices somehow reflect my own success (or failure).
But it doesn’t. A college acceptance or rejection letter is just that – the college had space for a student one year or it didn’t. It doesn’t say anything about your son’s kindness or your daughter’s sense of humor. But your letter can.
So go ahead and write it now. Take a few minutes to tell your kid how great she is, right now and right here. In 20 years I bet that college letter will have disappeared, but the one you write will never be forgotten.