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A Message to Parents from a Parent Who Has Been Through It

Last year around this time, my oldest daughter was deep in the throes of her biggest challenge yet: the college admissions process. And, I was deep in it with her. Parents who have been through the process had warned me that it would feel like an emotional rollercoaster on steroids. They were right.

As a professional Disney travel planner by day and the mother of two teenage girls I thought I knew rollercoasters, but this process was the most intense rollercoaster I have encountered to date. When I dropped my oldest daughter off at the airport a few weeks ago as she headed back for her second semester of college, I thought about what a difference a year makes. I said goodbye to her on the curb, of course. Her independence felt bittersweet as her luggage edged a bit between us. As I watched her walk confidently into the airport, I let myself enjoy the moment of being a proud mom. She’s on her way, I thought.

It was just a few short weeks ago I was in that airport, close to midnight on a Friday night, when I watched that same young woman descend down the escalator with her first semester of college behind her—sporting her school sweatshirt and her smile. I thought about how she easily navigated two airports to come home and a semester filled with two hurricanes, a snowstorm, and all the unknowns of freshman year. Yet, she was radiant and so was that smile. Only on three hours of sleep as her last final was that day, she was a little punchy telling me how they do not handle snow in the South, which floormates left when, who is getting along with whom, how neat she is now that she shares a room, stories about her friends, an amazing grade she received on a final paper, what she thought about her first finals week, and on and on.

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This was the girl who last year at this time did not have a college sweatshirt to wear proudly just yet and her characteristic smile was not as prominent most days. She had received seven college acceptances including the school she now attends. Every "yes" she received up to this point came with very attractive merit awards. However, none of the “yes's” were her top choices. After her initial group of acceptances from all the other schools, she would go on to receive a very surprising waitlist decision, a not-so-surprising waitlist decision, and then three “no’s” in a matter of a few short weeks. Two of those “no's” and one of the waitlist decisions were her top three choices. Even with such incredible offers already in hand, she was devastated with each rejection. And yes, the waitlists felt like rejections too.

Of her acceptances, though, there was one college she found herself really falling in love with. She first toured this school the summer before senior year and even though in her mind she had her top three schools finalized at the time, this school spoke to her right from the start. She was just not ready to listen to it as she thought she knew one of the other schools would be a better fit.

At the very beginning of March, my daughter and I went to an accepted students weekend at this school and I could tell she loved it even more than she thought she had. A few weeks after that visit, the bad news about the other schools started rolling in. The good thing was once the final cards were on the table, she was free (and quick) to announce her choice and she has never looked back.

As painful as the process was at times, I think the ups and downs of last year helped her grow in so many ways. I truly cannot imagine her coming down the escalator that night at the airport after finishing up her first semester with any other sweatshirt on but the one she wore. She found a home and as much as I miss her, I know she is right where she should be.

To all the students and parents who just cannot imagine another “maybe” or “no,” it gets better. Hang in there, have faith, and as you keep believing in your kids, they will believe in themselves. Get super excited about their new choices and get them to those schools for the accepted student events. The return visits to a school your child has been accepted to are very different than when you first visited. There are reasons your son or daughter applied there in the first place. These reasons are only enhanced when your child goes back to the school and sees it from the perspective of "I am in here if I want to be!"

"Hang in there, have faith, and as you keep believing in your kids, they will believe in themselves." TWEET THIS 

Some of you may be married to your first love (and that is wonderful), but I am guessing many of you are happy you moved on from that relationship even though that separation was the end of the world at the time. Your kids will get "there" even if "there" is not what they or you thought it would be.

As I hugged my daughter goodbye at the airport a few weeks ago, I could not help but notice she was leaving with exactly what she had on when she arrived home for break—her school sweatshirt and that radiant smile.