Wading Through The Deafening Silence.

Essays have been written. Campus tours taken. Applications submitted. Conversations had. The deafening silence is in full force.

Talk to any high school Senior looking to attend college next fall and they will tell you. Right after their favorite question — which college are you going to next year? — they will respond with a stock answer they’ve carried around for months: I’m still waiting to hear from ___________ college/university.

Maybe they’ve narrowed their options down to a couple of choices. Maybe even two. But they are stuck in a period of waiting to hear back from one last college, to hear from an initial deferral, or to maybe even be moved off a hold list. This waiting produces a deafening silence that, in many cases, has been weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of students since their initial submissions in November. Students around the country find themselves now in the final weeks of a holding pattern for their final letter to come at the beginning of April so they can make their final declaration by May 1. This period is likely one of the most stressful times in their young life

When I graduated from high school, I wrote a graduation speech that was a recommended list of questions families could as their soon-to-be high school graduate. As a college-bound Senior I was swamped with people wondering where I was going the following fall. It would have been an easy answer had I not been a victim of the deafening silence myself. I heard back from one of my top choices very quickly, only to have to sit back and wait for months before hearing back from my other top choice. I had made my decision about attendance already, but was waiting for the system to catch up with my decisiveness.

Rushing home each day to catch the mail, and waiting to decide on my future seemed like something I should have been preparing to do for the 3.5 years plus beforehand. But, no matter what I did in my early high school days, nothing could have prepared me for the debilitatingly stressful silence that came as I emptied mailbox after mailbox of letters that had nothing to do with college. I was more than ready to decide, but the stress of waiting was something I was never going to be ready for.

Unfortunately, for some students, the deafening silence is further exacerbated by the dreaded waitlist. The list upon which they end up if the University is willing to reconsider you in a later collection of students — after the primary pool of admitted students commits or otherwise. For some, the waitlist is a blessing. It means a possible opportunity for later acceptance to a first choice school. For others, the waitlist deepens the cesspool of silence, creating a sense of hope that can be debilitating.

To combat the deafening silence, Universities have taken action and birthed the Early Decision. For those students who know where their future is taking them, are confident in their trajectory, and have a clear-cut top-choice school, ED will give them a quicker deadline met with a quicker — albeit binding — response. The unspoken challenge here is that a 17/18 year old must be ready to make this decision in the fall of their Senior year. This is a tall feat for the most self-actualized of adolescents, let alone those who have even an inkling of doubt. With ED comes a clear answer, but also a clear commitment: If accepted, the student is bound to attend that specific institution. While ED awards the definitive student, it also pushes young people to take measures to try to avoid the deafening silence perhaps a bit before they are ready to do so.

As the first week of April approaches, we adults who are supporting young people through their postsecondary considerations must approach this prospect with care. We must take the time to consider the weight of the silence that is resting on the shoulders of many students looking to college for next fall. Here a couple of recommendations for helping your student be less deafened by their silence:

Set A Timeline

Work with your student to understand how long they’re actually going to have to wait. A safe bet is to call the admissions office(s) of the schools your student is considering and get an approximate timeline from them.

Help Them With Language For Their Answers

Many students are simply stressed by not having an answer to the dreaded questions about their future. Sit with your student and brainstorm a list of questions that they are like to be asked: What are you doing next year? What majors are you thinking about? What are you most looking forward to about college? From this list, practice with your student some of the answers they could give to the adults asking the questions.

Remind Them: They Do Have A Plan

At the end of Senior year, society says — for whatever crazy reason — that students are meant to have things figured out. They’re meant to have a plan that will shepherd in their bright future. As adults, we know that plans made by eighteen-year-olds will very likely change, something our over-planned culture tends to dismiss. We must take time to remind our young people that they do have a plan, and even though the plan might change, they are moving forward with their life.

Emphasize Learning

The major product of college continues to elude many. Rather than job placement, status earning, or friend making, college remains an environment primed for learning. This is why students attend: To become more aware of themselves, the world, their skills, and their future. If anything, encourage your young person to be mindful that the are going to college to learn — a path that will lead to countless future possibilities.

As the deafening silence broke the spring of my Senior year I was certainly relieved. But more importantly, it was one of the more mindful moments of my adolescence. It took about ten years before I actually realized this to be the case, but at the time it was maddening. Particularly with the increase in college hype in the past fifteen years, adults must be more aware and supportive of their young person throughout the wait.