Karen A. Hott

Hott off the Press

Working with high school students, I champion their well-being and confidence daily. Right now, though, I’m acutely aware of the stress and strain that parents are feeling, helpless to make happen things beyond their control, namely, college admissions. If you’re a parent of a senior who has received or is awaiting college decisions, you no doubt see the anxiety and feel the distress your child experiences during this process, and that’s hard.

The key here is to avoid comparison.

Maybe your kid is one of the lucky ones who hasn’t had a disappointing outcome yet—no denials of admission, deferrals, or waitlisting. If so, congratulations. Hug your kid. High five the other parent, their grandmas and grandpas. Try to refrain from announcing it on Facebook, from texting their friends’ parents.

Or maybe your kid has had some less-than-happy results in the early rounds of decisions. (Most colleges won’t be finished releasing admission decisions before April.) Maybe you’re nettled by a Toxic Friend with a child the same age as yours, someone who keeps texting you with all of their kid’s wonderful accomplishments, the subtext implying that their kid is better than yours (and by extension, the parent is better than you).

Some clients have passed along to me how they stay away from the comparison game:

  • ~Say, “Congratulations!” Then politely disengage from the conversation.
  • ~Use humor. “Thank goodness we don’t have that problem!”
  • ~Stay away from Facebook or other social media if it’s a source of toxic comparisons.
  • ~Don’t engage in trying to figure out why Abbott got in with a “full ride” (which is extremely rare) while Zoe did not. You cannot know what hidden factors—like institutional priorities—went into a college’s decisions.
  • ~Tell friends who ask what is happening with your child that your family has agreed not to discuss college outcomes until your child decides where to attend in the fall.

Breathe. Your child will find their place and these days, with their excitement and agony, will be in the past.

Toxic comparisons in college admissions