The Case for JOYFUL Choice, No Wrong Decisions, and Balloons.

This admissions season has been one of bad news. From the ongoing case by Asian applicants against Harvard to the Varsity Blues Federal Case against 50 parents, coaches, and consultants, the admissions year 2018-19 has been a tough one- for the industry in general and for a few Anchor Collegians specifically. Acceptances are up and down. Aid is up and down. Morale is up and down.

We’ve had successes; all Anchor Collegians are headed off to one of their top three schools. We’ve had some heartbreak; an amazing applicant was turned down by her first-choice school (Early Decision) after being courted by the school for a number of months. It happens. The reasons are still unclear. (Although, in this particular case, I can say unequivocally that the school screwed up, and, in that screw up, lost a phenomenal candidate.)

Evalyn Spade* is the girl above. A musician, a scholar, a sweet girl who wrote a beautiful, timely, funny, sweet portrait of herself and her passion, fears, and soul in her essay. I don’t normally call out schools for mistakes (Although I still haven’t forgiven #Swarthmore for their huge mistake in admissions year 2017-18) and I am not going to call out Bryn Mawr on this one. 😉 Not because I think they deserve to be cut some slack, but mostly because this is a story of joy.

After a rocky start with the Early Decision denial, Evalyn received offers of admission at three highly-regarded schools. All of them offered her some scholarship and aid. She was offered significant academic opportunity at one. All recognized the value of her becoming a member of their community. One was a Seven Sisters school in Massachusetts, one was a prestigious small liberal arts college in the mid-atlantic, and one was a public institution in the great state of Virginia. She visited each; her dad made the decision matrix of all decision matrices, and her mom was supportive and objective. Perfect decision-making opportunity, right?

So why couldn’t Ms. Evalyn Spade make a decision?

Because she forgot the JOY in the process. She was so worried about making the wrong decision. With school finals, concerts, upcoming transition, 5-digit tuition, forms and the stress of applications still fresh in her mind… she forgot that there were no wrong choices. Any decision she made between the three schools would lead her to her potential. Any of the three schools was the right decision. Nowhere on her dad’s matrix was there a dead end, a wrong turn, or a poor outcome.

So how did she come to her choice? By understanding that each of the schools offered her similar education, financial aid, and community… so it came down to that gut feeling. The umami of the institution. What felt the MOST right out of all the rights. Evalyn knew the choice in her heart but needed to move through the process. She, like many students these days, was stuck at the three-way fork in the road.

It wasn’t that she couldn’t make the decision, it was that the choices brought her to the end of a 4 year process, an era. In not making a choice, she stayed in the known. With a choice, she ventured into the very scary unknown: the next part of her life. What if the path she chose wasn’t the right next part of her life? What would she miss in choosing one path over another? How would she know? What did her parents think was the right choice? Was there one choice that might be just a little bit better? What was the way she could discover that “little bit better?” There were so many questions in her mind. So many alternate paths leading to so many opportunities. I listened and then….

I told her to buy some balloons.

I said to Evalyn, and I’ll say it to all those struggling with making the best choice out of great choices:

The decision should be joyous, not stressful. The waiting is the hardest part, not the choice. The choice should be easy. You’ve done your homework, you know what school fits your lifestyle, budget, and academic needs. Don’t worry about what you will miss on the campus you did not chose. Think about the traditions you will start, the opportunities that WILL be afforded, the adventure that is to come on the campus you know is the best of the awesome choices you have.

Celebrate your decision. Send the deposit.  Wear the sweatshirt, join the Facebook page, announce it to the world and notify the school. Put yourself in the community that wants you. Start developing the language of your decision… “Next year, as a freshman at XXXXX school.”  Visualize your dorm room, plan your drop off, your notebooks, your backpack’s color. Say a quick polite farewell to the school’s whose luck didn’t include getting you as a student, then accept the offer that is most right for you with JOY. It is a time to celebrate. Go buy some balloons in your school colors and tie them firmly to your door, lamppost, mailbox, or kitchen chair.

Say the words aloud, check YES, and buy the balloons.

When I got off the phone with Evalyn, I was pretty sure the choice was made. I just wasn’t sure if she bought the “joy of decision” part. I hope she had, as I truly believe it. I wanted her to experience the happiness of knowing she was going to follow an amazing path. It wasn’t the only amazing path laid out in front of her, but it was the right one to follow for the next four years.

Sometimes, when I am at the end of an admission year, I feel like students have listened to me too much. I am afraid that my advice falls on teen-aged ears; a Charlie Brown’s teacher moment. I worry that I delve into the emotional part of the choice, when parents hire me to help with the organizational part. But tonight, at the end of a long day, I got a text message from Evalyn, and this is what it was:

Congratulations, Evalyn, and all the others heading off to their next adventure in the fall. Its the perfect choice. Don’t forget to buy the balloons.

*students identities are changed to protect their anonymity. Students used in the blog are allowed to chose their own alias.

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