Among April Fools, Your Newly Admitted Child

Jun 19, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

It's that magical time of year when you're finally done shoveling snow and now must instead prepare for a different kind of avalanche: the piles of thick acceptance letters your child will receive from top universities and colleges. It's always a special time in a parent's life when their children first get into college. The seasons change and so does the fashion; now you'll trade in that heavy jacket for a thick envelope. The BMWs and Audis at the local club will be newly kissed by college decals and conversation can blissfully turn from standoffish whispers of SAT scores and essays to more civilized topics like admit rates and parental failure. It's a magical time.

But as great as your and your child's success is, it's important to remain sensitive to persons whose children didn't fare so well in the college game. Princeton admits, for example.

These poor unfortunate souls should be given proper comfort. Explain to them how random the process is, how arbitrary, how cruel. Stanford only let in less than seven percent of applicants last year. Statistically, you have almost as much a chance to get into MIT as getting struck by lightning. It's more likely that your child will be swallowed by a stray bear than get in early decision to Amherst. What you're saying is, while you succeeded where so many other parents failed, at least their child didn't get eaten by bears. (But if they survived, maybe that college essay would have been more impressive.)

But be sure to explain how sure you are that their child will be happy at no matter college they end up. This won't be true, of course, because their child's classrooms resemble cavernous arenas and their faculty to student ratio is slightly less than the odds of winning the lottery, but you must remain humble in your victory. No one likes a sore winner. Especially a winner whose children have admission forms that read like love letters. The dean's note at the end thanking you personally for the truffles is also not something to dwell on.

Now that your child has gotten into college, it's important that he/she remain sensitive to other students at that $40,000 a year stepping stone. They should remain guarded and respectful about college news. You're not fooling anyone when that acceptance letter keeps falling out of their notebook, or gets left in the copier, or mysteriously finds itself on the overheard projector again.

At the same time, let them have fun. This is as much their victory as yours. Let them attend some of the admit weekends of the colleges you won't have them attend, maybe even that crazy hippie college with the endowment in the millions. It also might be time to unchain them from their desk now, as well.

Don't brag. When you first have guests into your house, it's best not to wear anything too flashy. Put away that college sweater, instead stick to subtler hints--ties with the college's logo on it, maybe a nice merlot from the university's vineyards, or quietly humming the fight song of your child's soon to be alma mater. These will allow your guests to broach the subject first, as they are probably curious as to why you invited them over after months of your self-imposed "waiting period."

It's always considered customary to put a sticker of where your child will be attending next fall in the rear window of the family's station wagon. In order to remain sensitive to those who are going to less prestigious universities that don't have rear window decals, and to ensure your child's car doesn't get egged on the way home from school, it's not advisable to put the decals of every college your child got into on the rear window like trophies of their conquered foes. You should keep a strict smugness quota of one decal per car. Similarly, don't refer to a dean that granted your child admission as someone who you made your "bitch."

When talking to friends, choosing commonalities is always a good path. But try to refrain from questions about your child's graduation in four years, your wardrobe for such an event, and if you should book the Stenson Room at your college's campus hotel for the reception afterwards. You know, the one where President Cleveland had his inauguration party?

Throw in some humility with your remarks. "I told him that writing that essay about his time saving seals from AIDs would hurt his candidacy, but I guess his perfect grades made up for it." That might get a knowing chuckle from some of your peers. If not, we'll see how well that collegial-decaled car drives with sliced tires.