A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions, Part 20: On Waiting

March 20, 2014, 8:19 AM · Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions


February is the shortest month. March goes on forever.

April Fool’s Day (by some cosmic joke) is the standard deadline for American colleges, university and schools of music to announce acceptance decisions. However, in practice most schools release their regular-decision acceptances at some point during March. A few, and those with rolling admissions or Early Decision cycles, will announce sooner. Every institution seems to have a different timetable and procedure for notifying applicants, and these timetables can vary from year to year. Some release all decisions all at once, like a tsunami; a few do it in a series of waves, others in trickles.

Sometimes news arrives the old-fashioned way. Your kid comes home from school one afternoon to find a letter lying amid the bills and magazines—like a trapdoor to her future. The sight of a narrow, business-size envelope will sink your heart. But a thin envelope could contain a letter beginning “We are pleased to inform you…” And a luscious, fat envelope, stuffed with glossy dining service brochures and bumper stickers, might conceal a devastating bombshell: “…we were not able to admit you to your desired program, but hope you will still consider…”

Postal mail is rarer these days; most of the time, it’s like living in a digital minefield. An explosion could occur any time, whenever your kid checks her phone. If an email subject line reads “Congratulations”, that’s a good sign (usually). If it says “Admissions Decision”, hold your breath (parents, at this point you may be ordered to leave the room.) Sometimes the email directs her to log on to a portal where, with shaking fingers, she’ll type a password to view a digital facsimile of a paper letter. “We are pleased to inform you…” Or not.

When he gets out of class, your son checks his missed-call log: what’s this unfamiliar number with the same area code as his top-choice school? There’s no message. Should he call back, or wait to see if they will call again? I know a girl who waited three days to drum up nerve to listen to a voicemail from a program she applied to. It was just the financial aid office calling to verify her parents’ tax information.

Before the age of the internet, it didn’t make as much difference to applicants how or when they learned of acceptances. College admissions results were a private matter, shared with your family, guidance counselor, and close friends. If you didn’t get into Princeton, nobody needed to know about it but your parents. Now, social media ramps up admissions news into a month-long festival of public anxiety. The instant any information leaks out, the entire studentverse and half the parentverse is on alert, antennae quivering.

It’s stressful enough worrying about whether or not you kid will be accepted to college (and how you will pay for it). But it’s torture not knowing how or when he’ll be ambushed with news. One of your jobs as a parent, of course, is not to amplify this stress. I almost wrote that your job is “to alleviate the stress”—but in reality, if you care deeply about your child’s happiness and have helped to bring them this far on the journey, it’s tough to remain cheerfully calm on the sidelines during this time of almost unrelenting tension. If you withdraw emotionally from your child, or fake a careless sangfroid, your child will be alarmed, or feel abandoned.

Work on your own feelings first. Remember all those airplane safety demos you’ve sat through over the years? Put them to use now. Place the oxygen mask on your own face before attempting to help your child. You’ve lived in this world twenty, thirty, forty years longer than he has. Use your considerable life experience to work out examples in your own mind of the many times when things didn’t go exactly as you’d hoped and planned. What happened next? Did you recover and take an unexpected trajectory towards results that would have been impossible to foresee if things had gone “right”?

Don’t catastrophize. Say it aloud in the mirror. “If Fauntleroy doesn’t get into Peabody, his life is ruined.” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Review, in your own mind, the Plan B you helped him create back in September. But don’t undermine his confidence by babbling about gap years and BA music programs unless he brings it up himself.

Investigate your safeties. If your child has been admitted to any financial and/or artistic safety schools, now’s a good time to check them out thoroughly. Visit in person with your student, if you can afford the time away and the expense. The school will welcome their accepted student, and it's a great distraction to feel wanted. Also remember that while you are fairly static, in terms of your emotional development at this point in your life, your child is not the same person she was in September. Throughout this grueling process she’s matured emotionally, intellectually, and artistically. Many’s the student who falls in love unexpectedly with what they thought was a safety. Your student could surprise you by choosing one of her safeties over her "dream school" in the end.

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Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions


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