Preparing for College

Help! Our son was not accepted anywhere!

Question: Our son did not get into the only school he applied to. We are looking for information to help make this next year as productive as possible -- junior college? volunteer abroad? As well as looking for direction....

Sorry to hear that you're scrambling at an already hectic time of year, but I do have to wonder why a student would apply to only one college. Did your son get poor advising at school or did he approach this process with an "all-or-nothing" determination to attend a dream college? In any case, as my Nana used to say, "Don't cry over spilled milk." It's time to move on, and your son will certainly have plenty of options. In fact, this unfortunate situation may even be destiny's way of telling him that he was barking up the wrong tree. Here are some ideas to start with:

-In early May, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) will post online its annual "Space Available Survey" and you can search, state by state, for colleges that are still accepting applications, even if their official deadlines have passed. While you won't find Stanford or Swarthmore on this list, there are usually some quite-respectable--if not ideal--options.

See (but only after the first week or so of May)

-There are also many colleges and universities whose application deadlines have not passed. Trying using the College Board's "Matchmaker" search engine: Your son should fill out the Matchmaker questionnaire, selecting all his preferences (size, location, etc.) Then, when he gets to the section called "Admissions," he should select the option that says "More than 75% of applicants admitted." Many of these schools will still be accepting applications.

-Finally, consider a year-off alternative. Your son may decide to work, to pursue an extracurricular activity in depth, to enroll in community-college or "continuing education" classes at a local university, or take part in some sort of organized "Gap Year" program. I've heard excellent things about City Year ( ) One great thing about City Year is that participants are actually paid a stipend for their efforts, while many other structured gap-year programs can be pretty pricey. Massachusetts-based "Dynamy," offers gap-year "internships in MA and CA, too. There are some other great year-off programs, too, but those are just two to get you started.

Do be aware, though, that if your son does a program like City Year or Dynamy and then reapplies to colleges, he probably won't have a much better chance at the school that already turned him down. If he takes college-level classes and does well, he MIGHT. However, after a non-academic gap year experience, his priorities may have changed anyway, and he can apply to a NEW list of colleges ... one that's more on target than his original goal might have been.

Above all, please assure your son that, although he may feel frustrated and hurt right now, the college-admission process is a capricious one, and the decisions that students receive--both good and bad--don't really say anything about what kind of people they are nor about the happiness and success that awaits them. I could tell your son many tales of famous college "rejects" who can now look back on their denial letters and laugh, no matter how painful they were at the time.