The answers we don’t like

Every parent has experienced some version of the transformation that takes place when your child decides they don’t like your answer to one of their questions. They ask for the ice cream or the video or the new toy, and when the “no” comes back from the parent, the response can range from a toddler-like tantrum to lawyer-like negotiation. All in hopes of getting a different answer.

College counselors often face the same behavior from both students and parents.

A counselor delivers an honest answer or a truth that’s difficult to hear. Stanford is not a realistic choice. The letter of recommendation from an alum will not significantly improve your chances at Penn. Your essay about your work with National Charity League won’t mitigate the Cs on your transcript. Whatever it is, if it’s hard to hear, some students and parents will look for a way to get a different answer.

“What if I made a personal connection with a rep at a college fair?”

“Our neighbor told us something very different.”

“We have a friend who went to Yale, and she agrees with our choice of essay topic.”

But much like the most resolute parents facing an equally resolute child, a college counselor is unlikely to give you a different answer. It’s not because we’re stubborn or that we care most about being right. It’s because in most cases, the new information or debate or rephrasing just doesn’t change the factual answer.

I can certainly understand the inclination to do more than just acquiesce in the face of unpalatable information. And you should never hesitate to ask follow-up questions to better understand what your counselor is sharing or recommending.

But the continuous search for a different answer is usually not productive. It doesn’t help you move forward or make better decisions. It raises stress instead of lowering it. It makes kids feel less in control of the process, not more so. And it usually amounts to effort and focus that could have been more productively spent elsewhere.

People of all ages are sometimes better off accepting the answer we might not like, and then deciding how to move forward productively from there.