College "Fit" vs. Rejection

Most of you high school seniors who have chosen Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) have already submitted your applications. Now, you're managing your academics, extracurriculars, and looking at other colleges, either as additional candidates beyond your EA school(s) or as a contingency in case your mid-December results are not what you desired.

Speaking of undesirable outcomes, let's take a look at some of the possible reasons colleges deny certain applicants and how you should deal with that reality. In other words, just as my post's title notes, let's consider fit versus rejection.

A while back, I wrote an article for College Confidential entitled Dealing with Rejection. In my attempt to explain how to deal with a negative admissions outcome, I said:

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 [or email these days] 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. … 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 waitlist 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. …

So, believe it or not, college admissions officers (and deans) can have a heart. Of course, knowing that fact doesn't provide much comfort for the rejected applicant.

On the other hand, there's a different way to look at not being accepted. Instead of feeling that grinding thought that you are a deficient applicant, unfit for acceptance, perhaps you should consider that you are, indeed, fit, but the college or university has goals and needs in mind for their incoming class that don't align with your profile.

The “mismatch," so to speak, is on their end, not yours. This may — or may not — help you deal with your disappointment.

People look at this in different ways …

Take the case of Ben Orlin who explains why he refuses to be an alumni interviewer this year and would never enlist students anymore. Orlin wishes not to be engulfed in the process of giving students ample disappointments when rejected. Yale sends rejection letters to 94% of their college applicants.

Orlin feels to have a hand in the admissions process that is destroying the applicants emotionally just because of the misconception that they are not good enough, says NBC News.

Being rejected by a college entity should be taken as if it is akin to not being accepted as a friend via Facebook friend request. It should not be as serious as getting dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend, according to Business Insider.

No doubt, dealing with rejection is difficult. Most high schoolers mistakenly take rejection on a personal level. They seem to think that the letter from the admission 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 real truth is that often some rejected students could have done as well as — or better than — accepted students. This isn't a matter of rationalization or sour grapes. At schools where there is a significantly larger number of applications than seats (schools whose acceptance rates are 50 percent or less), there just isn't room for all the qualified applicants. That's why there is the so-called wait list. A wait list is a group of “in-betweeners," not accepted but not rejected, a kind of purgatory. They gain admission only if the number of enrollments doesn't meet expectations for the incoming freshman class.

Others agree with me about this. NBC News' Amy DiLuna makes the following points about being denied by a college to which you've applied:

– Rejection doesn't mean you're not good enough.

Go back up a bit and reread what I said: “Nothing could be further from the truth. The real truth is that often some rejected students could have done as well as — or better than — accepted students …"

– Maybe you're just not the cellist they need this year.

Again, this referee to the lack of fit that happens on the colleges' end. You certainly may be a good cellist, but this particular school may be looking for trombonists this year. Brass vs. strings. It happens. This is exactly what “college fit vs. rejection" means.

– It's kind of like the Powerball.

“When only 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 applicants gets admitted, it is closer to a lottery," said Jim Jump, director of college counseling at St. Christopher's School in Virginia. “As a counselor, my advice to students and parents mirrors the Serenity Prayer. Focus and worry about the things over which you control, and not over those you don't. Getting into a particular school is one of those."

– Try to keep it all off social media.

This is real wisdom. Lisa Sohmer, director of college counseling at The Garden School in Queens, notes, “Everything now is so public, (Our generation) could go home, get the envelope, cry into our pillows, go to school the next day and not say anything, as opposed to everything being on Facebook and Instagram with pictures of the letters. Don't post too much about how this is your first choice, because if you wind up enrolling in School “A" rather than School “B," everybody's going to ask you why."

– Remember that life goes on.

“They should be able to try, with the help of their families, colleagues, friends, counselors, to understand that they have options, that this the beginning of something and not the end, and that their parents and teachers and friends are going to feel the same way about them whether they get into school X or not," Sohmer said.

– Allow time for mourning.

Take some 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.

In the context of college admissions, it all goes back to what my mother used to tell me: things tend to work out for the best.

Yes, indeed; there is life after rejection.


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.