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Take Heart: It’s Okay if They’re Not Thrilled About Their College Decision

Maybe it’s partly our fault. We ask them, “What’s your dream school?” We encourage them to think big, to reach, to explore all options. We pore over the websites, we visit the campuses—mostly, we stay alert for The One.

But then reality hits: The rejection from the first-choice school. The crappy financial-aid package. And maybe just the feeling that no single school is perfect—that weight of not even knowing what the perfect school even is, because they’re 18 years old, and how on earth are they supposed to make this huge decision that affects nothing less than the course of the rest of their lives?

May is decision time, and in homes all over the country, there are quietly unhappy kids.

Okay, maybe the unhappiness isn’t quiet inside the house—which you well know if you’re living in a family where there’s a kid who’s not thrilled about their college destination.

It’s easy to feel alone. It’s not exactly the kind of thing people post on Facebook amongst the happy announcements and pictures of kids wearing college sweatshirts. You never see anything along the lines of: This morning, Molly was crying in the kitchen. Again. She’s been accepted by two schools and, sure, they’re fine schools, but it’s not what she had in mind. Instead of celebrating, we’re all agonizing that neither of the schools is the right fit for her interests and personality. We just thought this would be such a happy time.

Real life is complicated.

Sarah Katz, who’s now 24 and a graduate of the Ohio State University, was upset about how her college decision played out.

With the green light from her parents, she had applied to New York University’s prestigious film program. What could the harm be? The chances of getting into the selective school were slim anyway. But she did get in—and the reality of the cost of one of the nation’s most expensive colleges set in. It was too much of a financial burden, said her parents. Katz was, to say the least, frustrated and disappointed: her dream school, gone.

Most people, though, share similar stories in the end: It was all for the best. Or, I can’t imagine it going any other way.

And that’s how Katz came to feel. She is “totally, totally happy now” that she went to Ohio State, and she even became a tour guide for the university. With less financial pressure, she was able to study abroad twice, something that would have been out of reach at NYU. And she loved having the “campus experience,” which NYU’s urban setting doesn’t offer. “It all happens for a reason,” she says. “Any opportunity you get, you realize you wouldn’t have had that opportunity somewhere else.”

These are the bits of wisdom that we only see in the rearview mirror—but they are there, in waiting, all along. The only way is forward, and in making the most of what’s ahead.

Sharon Holbrook

Sharon Holbrook is managing editor of Your Teen.