Acknowledging without catastrophizing

It’s often difficult for college counselors to find the sweet spot between allaying and indulging families’ negative emotions around the college admissions process. Years ago, a parent told me that both she and her daughter were “just devastated” by a denial that had arrived from Stanford. I wondered how long I could patiently listen and sympathize before pointing out that their lives must be pretty great if this qualified as a “devastating” event. The process can generate fear, frustration, pain, etc. that feels quite real for the families experiencing it, even if they’ve lost some perspective.

The need for that balance is on full display in this piece, which tackles the “feelings of loss and grief that accompany the departure of a child [to attend college].”

I’m reluctant to indulge the notion that a kid going to college is a grief-worthy loss. Yes, growing up and moving out of the house means a new phase of life for both the student and parent alike. It’s a transition, maybe even a difficult one. But it’s not goodbye forever.

At the same time, much of the anxiety and frustration families experience during the college admissions process does come from their failure to acknowledge what they’re really thinking and feeling. Sometimes that parent who’s in full-fledged angst over her son’s college essay, who forces the story she believes is strong and then rewrites substantial portions of the essay herself, really just needs to say out loud how sad she is that her son won’t be coming down to the breakfast table every morning next September.

Parents, I’d read the article and thoughtfully consider the questions posed. If you or your student are in fact struggling with your upcoming transition to the college years, it’s far better to recognize and acknowledge it than to allow it to seep into and potentially ruin your college application process. Once you recognize that what’s really bothering you has nothing to do with essays or test scores or the potential advantageous connection your dentist might have with Cornell, you’ll be a lot closer to that balance of acknowledging without catastrophizing your worries.