Why Self-Acceptance in College Admissions & Transitions is the First Step

Self-acceptance in college admissions is like a pair of jeans… Yep, the good ole blue jeans. Think about how your favorite pair of jeans fit – the ones that you wear to the grocery store, to pick up the kids, to the football games or swim meets… They even have a little stretch to allow for those extra doughnuts that you sneak in. You always feel good wearing them. These jeans may not make you feel like the most chic version of yourself, but they are you. 

Now, I want you to think about your special jeans – the ones you wear out to happy hour or to parent-teacher conferences when you want to impress the teacher with how put together you are. They are your reach jeans – the ones that don’t quite get worn as often and don’t nearly have enough stretch. They are definitely not as comfy as your everyday jeans, but they make you feel sharp and at the top of your game.

Both pairs of jeans are in your wardrobe. They are both you. And while you can take a friend to help you pick out a new pair of jeans and comment on how each pair looks, it always comes down to how they feel to you. You need to try them on in the mirror and decide for yourself if that’s you.  

You need to accept yourself as you are and know what feels good to you. 

Likewise, your son or daughter needs to decide on their own what feels natural to them – self-accepting who they are. 

Self-Acceptance in College Admissions & Transitions

Self-acceptance is critical to the process of transitioning from a child to a self-sufficient adult. Leaving your wonderful home for college, the military, or a job entails risk! The college application process can be especially risky because there is so much weight and value our society puts on the “college brand.” 

Accepting Their Brand

Think of all the money that colleges spend on their branding swag! 

Getting into college has become an American rite of passage, and there’s a lot involved to do it well. 

A student needs to know and accept their BRAND – their unique strengths, weaknesses, interests, risk tolerance before focusing on the brand of the colleges where they would like to attend. The key to a successful transition is not valuing the “college brand” over the personal identity of the student who wears the college’s brand.

Going a Different Direction 

Sometimes, self-acceptance in college admissions looks like going a different direction. I once had a student whose dad was a chiropractor, Cornell graduate, and former professional hockey player – truly a pinnacle of success in our culture’s eyes. When we first started working with her, her dad had the financial talk, which we will discuss in our next podcast, fixing her 4-year college budget at $100,000 – no more.

Her dream school was and always had been Duke University. I asked her, “Are you going to be fine if you get into Duke but don’t qualify for need-based aid?”

She responded with, “I don’t want to come out of college with debt. Money has also been a tipping point in my family, and I don’t want money to be a conflict point.”

It was more important to her to keep peace in her family and stay within her family’s budget than go to her dream school and incur debt. So, she decided to take  the reach schools off her list and instead applied for colleges which were still prestigious and a good fit and which fit her budget. 

She ultimately got into every college she applied to, received merit scholarships and even a fellowship at The University of Miami, where she enrolled. 

Ultimately, she applied and attended law school. She currently practices and teaches international law. Because she did not have debt, she never slowed down and kept moving toward her goals.

See what happened there?

My student did what felt right to her and succeeded because of it. 

College Fit for the 2 All-American Boys

Another good example of self understanding and college fit is somewhat like the Aesop fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Two very different young men whose educational journeys were vastly different but who ended up working for the same pay in the same company. One was the typical All-American boy who was popular, intelligent, and athletic. The other was very bright but lacked motivation in his high school academics – he barely scraped by. The All-American went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree whereas the slacker got into UT Austin’s Summer Gateway program, which they no longer offer to students. Basically, UT took a chance on him, and there was no guarantee he would start UT in the fall. 

The All-American boy succeeded and did really well at Harvard as expected. But the other boy got his act together, got into UT’s prestigious McCombs School of Business and earned the same degree as his Harvard friend and after graduation… got the same job. 

Where one starts does not dictate where one ends up. The boys both succeeded because they did what was right for them.

Are you okay with your child doing things their way?

Your Student Needs To Be Okay With Themself

Your student needs to be okay with themself. 

Speaking of my favorite critter, the tortoise, I could have started Bright Futures Consulting 5 years before I started it. But I felt I needed a doctorate degree to work with the children of successful families and highly educated families and that a Ph.D. would add to my credibility. I self-accepted that I needed those credentials for myself and no one else. It gave me more confidence, made me more secure in myself. 

Others in my situation may not have needed the doctorate degree, for sure an extra expense of time and tireless work. But it served me well, and it was aligned with my personal value of self-acceptance. 

What Self-Acceptance Looks Like

So what does self-acceptance actually look like? In our practice, the first step toward self-acceptance is self-awareness. We use the Birkan Assessment to help reveal student’s usual behaviors, needs, interests, and what they can do to reduce stress. The report tells us a lot about the type of environments your student will succeed in. And we put it into a language that your teenager can actually understand. 

Hold Up a Mirror & Be Vulnerable

The Birkman Assessment is like holding up a mirror to who you are. You know yourself best, but maybe you haven’t discovered why you are the way you are – how you’re wired and how your unique self interacts with others. At first, it’s embarrassing… Wow! That’s why I react to stressful situations and certain people!  It’s also so accurate that it’s a little terrifying. 

How can a report tell you more about yourself than you ever knew before? 

When I first took the Birkman as an adult, I saw it as a tool to help eliminate my blind spots – to point out where I’m most vulnerable to stress. Now, I know I’m vulnerable here, here, and here… For instance, when I’m under stress, I’ve become more aware that my instinct is to want to control situations and people, which only makes matters worse. Many moms relate to this tendency, especially with teenagers!

Instead, I’ve learned to pause and remember that my stressed self is not my best self. I’m my best self when I control myself and not try to control others!

By doing so, I recognize what I can do to be in a healthier state. 

Surrender Yourself 

Surrender is a scary word, and there’s usually a lot of resistance when I advise my families to surrender. 

While driving to one of my final meetings for my dissertation, I pulled over, overcome with fear that my 9 months of work – and yes, it was like being 9 months pregnant and wondering if my child would be born healthy and normal – would not be enough. Instead of gritting my teeth, I pulled over to the side of the road, prayed and breathed deeply, surrendering the outcome to God. I surrendered all my work for God’s glory!

In the same way, high school students are in a vital stage of development – adolescence. Erik Erikson, the famous developmental psychologist pointed out that an adolescent’s main developmental task is forming their separate and unique identity. Essentially, a teen is trying to find their voice and their own way to be their own person, not a clone. 

Many parents – maybe you – want to keep everything as it has been over the years. Parents want to continue providing constant guidance and protection because they still believe their child is that… a child. 

That’s why we see teenagers rebelling. It’s their way of asking their parents for permission to be their own person and control their lives.

2 Types of Encouragement

There are 2 types of encouragement you need to tell your teenager during this season:

  1. You can do this!
  2. If you fail, you can get back up, and I will be here to cheer you on!

Put the Responsibility on Your Teenager

The first type of surrender is putting the responsibility on your teenager and saying… That’s what it feels like to be an adult. You want it. You get to try it, and I’m here to support you. That’s appropriate scaffolding during the teen and young adult years.

We obviously want to be supportive and encourage this type of scaffolding; however, if your teenager is rebelling even against positive encouragement, you need to allow them to fail. Failing doesn’t make them a failure; it just means they get to try again – using what failure taught them.

I once worked with a family whose dad was incredibly successful. But his personality couldn’t be more different from his son’s. There was a lot of conflict in the home because of their differences. While reviewing the son’s Birkman, the dad started realizing how little he understood his son and how he was harming his son by the things he was doing and the way he was parenting him. 

To this day, that was one of the most powerful moments in my career.

The dad accepted his son, especially his differences (tearfully), and they began to honor each other for their unique selves. The dad had to surrender his previous beliefs and accept his son. Acceptance is the most powerful thing you can give someone; it opens the door to authentic love.

It Starts With The Birkman Assessment

That healing and new relationship began with the Birkman Assessment. Once there was daily conflict between father and son, with mom refereeing the relationship, but now there is peace and understanding. The dad became such a believer in our process that he’s referred over 40 families to Bright Futures Consulting. 

When I talk about what the Birkman does for students, I often ask them what’s the feather in Dumbo’s trunk? The feather is the source of all Dumbo’s confidence – a reminder that he’s capable of magical things… without the feather. 

For me, it’s realizing that it’s not about everyone liking me. That’s not self-acceptance. 

Your Student’s Secret Weapon: Themselves

Your student has a secret weapon. Did you know that? Their secret weapon is themself. No one can be them. No one can teach them to be them. And they simply can’t fake who they are. 

One of my students was a superior soccer player. She absolutely loved to bake and eat – could afford to with the amount of calories she burned in her sport. She would find these crazy recipes or combine recipes, bake them, and take them to her next door neighbor. The neighbors graciously accepted every time and gave her very specific feedback on her cooking and baking. 

“What I liked about this was how your mixed cranberry and the tart.” 

It was spot on and constructive. 

Parents… Schedule a standing date with your teenager to respond and give them similar feedback. Remember to affirm them in who they are. If you struggle with this, think back to how you’ve been affirmed in the past. If you haven’t received affirmation in the past due to abuse or neglect, find someone and ask them for affirmation. You need that just as much as your teenager needs it.

Conclusion: Self-Acceptance in College Admissions

In conclusion, it’s critical that you allow your student to accept who they are and for you to accept them. Self-acceptance in college admissions is the only way that your student will find a place that feels right and allows them to blossom into adulthood.

Did you hear? We just launched a podcast! It’s Self-Accepted: Guiding Families Through College Admissions & Transitions.