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College Admissions: A Waiting Game

student over test sheet
AP / CBS
It's the season when the mailbox looms large in the life of a high school senior.

"People skip school or left school early when they know that their mail arrives," a student by the name of Lauren tells CBS news correspondent Tracy Smith for The Early Show' "Study Hall."

Will it be a thin letter or a thick one? That's the question weighing heavily on the minds of the Darien, Conn., teen-agers Smith interviewed. "The thin letter is rejection," says Brittany.

How stressful is it, waiting to hear if you got accepted or rejected from college?

"It's a lot of pressure, waiting, having to tell everybody," says Christopher. "My father was on Instant Messenger waiting for the answer."

Lauren says she knows a lot of students who got the thin letter. "Kids that I know that seem to have gotten rejected from every school that they applied to," she says.

And students aren't the only ones gritting their teeth.

Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says she hates this time of year:. "It's amazingly so painful." She says each year millions of good kids get bad news from colleges and universities across the country.

And some of their Baby Boomer parents can't handle the disappointment, Jones says.

"I've had parents sitting in my office where both parents cried, sobbed, because I wouldn't change the decision," Jones says. "Parents are out of control, over-involved in their children's cases. It's as if the parents themselves are applying to college."

Her advice to Mom and Dad? Don't threaten to sue anybody, and support your child through the grief. After all, you are their role model.

"This is a moment in a child's life when they need to learn to roll with it," Jones says. "They need to learn how to react to setback and disappointment."

Yeah, it hurts. But after all, college is the first step toward adulthood, and maybe part of growing up is realizing that rejection may just be the best thing that ever happened to you.

"B.U., B.U., B.U., B.U., all the way, that's all I wanted, was B.U.," says Kathryn Slotnick. When she was applying to college, she had her heart set on Boston University. She had visited the campus all throughout childhood; both her big sisters went there.

"I remember talking to my guidance counselor, way back," says Kathryn. "And he asked me, 'You know if you don't get in to B.U., what will happen? Will you be devastated?' And I was like, That won't happen!"

But it did happen. Kathryn was rejected from her dream school, and ended up at her safety school, Northeastern University.

Now she says she has gotten some things from Northeastern that she might not have gotten from her first choice.

Kathryn says, "The classes are small, I know my professors, they know me on a personal basis."

She also has a year and a half of job experience on her resume. Through Northeastern's co-op program Kathryn has been able to work at a job in journalism, for several semesters, instead of attending class. That's something B.U. doesn't offer.

So, to all those kids who are going to get their own rejection letters this spring, she would say, Things happen for a reason, and you'll be placed somewhere that will most likely be better for you. I couldn't be happier."

And one of the things Dean Jones recommends is that parents share their own stories of rejection that ended up working out for the best, so kids can see that, yes, life really does go on.