Commentary: No matter where students are accepted to college, parents must be supportive

An early image of Sage Hill School taken in 2008. The private school is located along Newport Coast.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Spring is around the corner, bringing with it warmer weather and — for high school seniors throughout Orange County and the nation — a mix of excitement and anxiety as they anticipate the arrival of college acceptance letters. As we say at Sage Hill School, your high school student’s college counselors are the best resource to help both parents and students navigate this season of uncertainty. We’re often asked for — and more often proactively volunteer — tips on how parents can best support their students during this time.

We’ve found that a helpful and palatable way to begin these sometimes-tricky conversations with students is to consider a similar expression to the classic line from the 1994 film “Forrest Gump” — the one about life being like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get.

In many ways, the guessing game presented by a box of assorted chocolates is similar to the college admissions process. As any high school senior will attest, the admission decisions that he or she receives from colleges can deliver the same type of experience as that first bite of chocolate — whether it’s a favorite flavor or a surprise center.

A surprise center can represent a multitude of outcomes and reactions — pure joy at acceptance, disappointment when denied, or a level of uncertainty when deferred to the regular decision round or waiting list. It can be challenging to know what to say, what to do, or how to react to these results if you have a student, and yet a parent’s reaction is more important than one might think.

To start, parents need to remember that your students are watching you closely and that it’s your job to be supportive — no matter what piece of mystery candy your senior bites into. If your student doesn’t get into his or her first-choice school, it’s very important to help your student focus on the positives. Spend some time identifying what is great about the school your child was admitted to. What types of activities and opportunities can they look forward to at that campus? How is the school a great fit for them?

Additionally, parents should remind their students of the bigger picture and maybe even offer that universal advice we’ve all heard at some point: “You may not have gotten what you wanted, but you got exactly what you needed.” More often than not, recent graduates come back to share experiences following their first and second semesters away and say, “You know, this wasn’t my first choice school, but I now couldn’t have imagined going anywhere else.”

Frank Smith is director of college counseling at Sage Hill School in Newport Beach.