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Handling Decision Time in the College Process

Applying to college can be an intense and stressful process for everyone involved – students, families, and admissions officials alike — and while it’s a relief to finish and submit those college applications, waiting to hear about college decisions can be quite anxiety-inducing. 

While regular college decisions come out in March or early April, students who applied through early action or early decision can expect earlier decision notifications, usually in December and January. For these students, the college process continues to hold their attention as they head into their winter break from school, ready for much-needed rest from the rigors of the academic year. 

College counseling staff at independent private and boarding schools, who have supported and guided students throughout the college selection and application process, continue to help students and families of seniors as their college decisions begin to roll in.

Northfield Mount Hermon School’s Director of College Counseling Joe Latimer notes that college admissions decisions are complicated, especially in light of an increase in applications to the nation’s most selective institutions. An increase in applications means an increase in the number of qualified students who are subject to being denied.  

“Some admissions decisions received are going to be positive, while others are going to be negative,” Latimer says. “That’s normal given the balanced list of schools our students have applied to. We’re here to continue to champion and counsel our students no matter what news is received.”

This time in the college process can come with a wide range of emotions. Many students will be receiving exciting news, and this news may bring their college process to a close. Latimer urges that good news is best received with humility, knowing that not everyone is receiving the same news as you.

Inevitably, some students are going to receive negative news. Their disappointment may be coupled with a need to reimagine the next four years. Latimer encourages students — and their families — to acknowledge the hurt. Take time to process the pain, and then, he says, it’s time to regroup.

“Being denied affords you the opportunity to re-evaluate your options. We are here to help,” he said.

At Northfield Mount Hermon, students who need support are encouraged during the winter break to email their college counselor, who will schedule time to talk by phone or over Zoom. 

For families of these students, Latimer suggests thinking about the doors that closed while navigating their own college or job search. He said, “In time, we landed on our feet and we are grateful for the opportunities afforded us based on alternative routes we had to take.” 

In addition, some students will receive news that they will have to continue to wait for a definitive answer, and that their college process is going to go on longer than they’d hoped. For seniors who have to wait until late winter or spring for their decisions, the waiting can come with its own set of challenges.

“As a college counselor team, we are here to support our students and their families in any way we can, and we are here to process, to soothe, to celebrate, and to strategize, no matter the outcome,” Latimer said.

For some, celebrating is in order. For others, it’s a chance to be reminded of the benefits of seeing the entire playing field after all admissions decisions are received. 

Latimer recommends that students open their admissions decisions in a private setting so that negative news can be processed with support and continued encouragement, and positive news can be received with awareness that not everyone will be getting the same news. It’s also a good idea to be mindful of conversations — both in person and online.

It's important to keep in mind that a student’s worth is not measured by being admitted or denied to a college. Latimer said, “It’s not who admitted you, it’s what you do where you enroll.”

Regardless of where they are in the college process, as seniors head into the second half of the school year, it’s important for them to continue to focus on high school. Keep working hard, study for tests, and finish homework on time. Keep making school a priority.

“In the end, we remind students and families that everything is going to turn out fine,” Latimer said.