Last evening I spent several hours perusing the College Confidential discussion forum. It was the second of two "special" evenings there, and I was observing some of the many CC forum members.
The two special evenings are related to the Ivies releasing their respective admission decisions. The first evening happens in mid-December for the Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) applicants. The second evening used to be on or near April 1 but has now moved back into the last week of March. At least it was this year.
It's pretty much the same story every year. The many forum friendships that develop among the seniors, not only for Ivy applicants bit also for other schools, are a kind of mutual support system as the various release times tick closer. "Two hours to go!" (and all manner of other countdown variations) is a common phrase seen on the various school-specific forums. Tensions run high.
I tried to cover most of the Ivy forums as the verdicts came out, clicking quickly across the various results threads where many posters gave one-word responses -- "Accepted," "Rejected," and sometimes "WL" (waitlisted). Some appended their decision with a brief sketch of their academic stats. Some forums have elaborate protocols for posting stats, others just display what posters feel like sharing.
I was amused by one successful Harvard applicant who proudly trumpeted, "Excepted!" That may have been from an ecstatic jokester but it did have subtle, complex implications, if one had the time and motivation to ponder it. Oh, later down the thread, another poster noted, "That's accepted!" Ha!
There's an entire spectrum of emotion across those Ivy forums, as there is across all the other school forums, when it comes to the final news about getting in or not getting in. If you've just been through the many times quite stressful admissions process -- at any college -- you know what I mean by a "spectrum" of emotions. There's elation, despair, happiness, sadness, feigned indifference (I don't think anyone is left unmoved, one way or the other), and sometimes profane anger. That's when the CC forum moderators do their thing so well.
So, it's "the morning after" for Regular Decision Ivy applicants, not that they're the only ones that count. Far from it.
I'm addressing all college-bound seniors here. It's rare that applicants score 100% success. Accordingly, there is a need for contingency planning. Decisions have to be made. Options must be considered.
A while back, Russell Schaffer of Kaplan Test Prep sent me some savvy strategies for helping college applicants make their important college-choice decisions. I'd like to share them with you again today. His wisdom is solid, timely, and evergreen:
"The teenage rite of passage of waiting for incoming college decisions may have changed from looking for the thin or fat envelope to hitting “refresh” on the Web browser -- but the anxiety of college decision limbo has not. While many of this year’s two million-plus college applicants have earned admission into their top choice schools, many more are coping with the blow of rejection or being sent into waitlist mode, wondering what to do next. Meanwhile, even those fortunate enough to get accepted into their top choice schools are grappling with tough decisions. During this critical time, what should college applicants do and how can parents support their efforts? We offer the following advice for students to help navigate the most common college admissions scenarios.
"I didn’t get accepted to my top choice schools. Don’t be discouraged. You’re far from alone. Many of the nation’s most competitive schools announced record low acceptance rates this year (e.g. 5.9% for Harvard University; 6.3% for Yale University; 8.6% for Brown University; 7.3% for Princeton University; 6.9% for Columbia University). [NOTE: Since this information was first posted, those acceptance rates have plunged even lower! Check them out.] Keep in mind that college admissions have an element of subjectivity; also, rejection can sometimes reflect more on a school’s desire to build a well-rounded and diverse class with limited spots than on your strength as an applicant. Ideally you’ve applied to multiple places, including “safety” schools, which means you should have options. Take another look at these schools. If you applied to them, you must have liked something about them. And remember that generations of college students before you didn’t get into their top choice schools, but ended up being happy with their college experience.
"I’ve been waitlisted. Do I wait? The last thing you should do if you’ve been waitlisted is wait. Your first step: thank the school for keeping your application under continued consideration and send the admissions office new, relevant information that could aid your cause: midterm grades, awards, new leadership roles, etc. Make the case that you are a “must-have student.” That said, don’t be under any illusion that getting off the waitlist will be easy; in fact, it’s unlikely. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in the most recently surveyed year, colleges accepted an average of 25% of all students who chose to remain on waitlists - down from 31% the previous year. With that in mind, definitely revisit the schools that did say “We want you now.”
"I got into my top college choice, but the amount of financial aid they offered me wasn’t enough. Don’t be afraid to ask for more aid. Unlike FAFSA offers, which are non-negotiable, there may be flexibility in financial aid packages awarded directly by colleges. One strategy may be to show them a financial aid offer made by another college that accepted you and see if they’ll match it. Since they’ve already accepted you, they more than likely will work with you. Explain to them how your family’s financial situation may have changed since first applying or how your activities since applying warrant additional aid; the worst that can happen is that your request is denied.
"I got into several of my top schools; how do I decide which one to attend? This is the best situation to be in, but that doesn’t mean the decision will be simple. Refer to the list of factors you considered when you first applied. If paying for college is an important factor, evaluate their financial aid packages. If you can, visit (or revisit) the campuses that are still in the running, talk to current students and/or alumni, consider what’s most important to you in your college experience and which school will be the best “fit” for your priorities. Then, discuss it with those who know you best and make an informed decision.
"One more thing to keep in mind: Schools have the right to revoke your acceptance. While this is an uncommon occurrence, it does happen. Keep your grades up (according to a study by the NACAC, colleges say final grades are the reason for revoking admission 68.7 percent of the time); don’t get in trouble with the law or with your school; and be on your best behavior on social media."
Soon you will be closing in on final choice time. Make sure that you are conscientious about meeting the May 1 deadline. Colleges will give away your spot (and your financial aid) if you do not notify them by May 1 that you will attend. Even if you are waiting for a waitlist college, you must send a deposit somewhere by the deadline. This is also true if you are in the middle of a financial-aid appeal. Sometimes you get an extension, especially if you are in the middle of an aid appeal, but you should always get that extension in writing; email is fine.
If you have been waitlisted at a top-choice college and wish to remain on the list, you must be sure to notify that college immediately. The more selective the college, the longer those lists tend to be and the more futile the campaign, but I still think it can be worth doing. Otherwise you’ll always wonder what might have been.
If a college is pressuring you to send a decision (and, especially, a deposit) before May 1, the school is violating the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Candidates Reply Date Agreement. Mention this to your school counselor. Colleges will sometimes do anything they can to fill those dorm rooms.
Finally, it wouldn't be a proper "morning after" if I didn't mention again what I've said in the past about dealing with the disappointment of denial. So ...
Dealing with rejection is difficult. Most high schoolers tend to take being turned down by a college or university on a personal level. They seem to think that the letter from the admissions office is really saying something like, "You are deficient and we don't want to have anything to do with you." Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is that in a lot of cases some rejected students could have done as well, if not better, than those who were accepted. This isn't a rationalization or sour grapes. At schools where there is a significantly larger number of applications than seats (schools whose acceptance rate is ~50 percent or less), there just isn't room for all the qualified applicants. This fact is borne out by the so-called Waitlist. A waitlist is a group of "in-betweeners" who haven't been rejected but haven't been admitted. They will be offered admission if the number of enrollments doesn't meet expectations for the incoming freshman class.
One famous dean of admission said that his institution received so many outstanding applications that he didn't have the heart to send rejection letters. He noted that placing these fine young men and women on the wait list was his way of saying, "We should have admitted you, but we didn't have room." Such is the case with many good colleges. Everyone who is good enough to get in isn't always offered admission.
Take a little time to feel disappointed about not getting into your most-desired school(s). It's perfectly natural to feel bad. Don't dwell on it, though, and, by all means, don't develop an obsessive attitude about it. Don't hate that school from this moment on. Don't view successful candidates as elitist snobs. Accept the fact that you didn't make the cut -- for whatever reason -- and get on with your life.
Embrace those schools that have embraced you. Select the one that best suits your needs and prepare to have a great higher-education experience. Yes, indeed; there is life after rejection.
Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.