Preparing for College

Rejection Letter Ambiguity

I've dealt with a lot of college applicants over the decades. Most have been happy and successful in their results, but some have been KO'd by the dreaded thin envelope. College admissions is a test. It tests whether or not the applicant can hurdle the bar to get in. Many don't. That's especially true at the highest levels of competition: the Ivies and the other so-called “elites."

What strikes me as unfair, even offensive, is the purposely ambiguous tone of the “rejection" letters. In this PC world, I'm surprised that they haven't come up with a euphemism for that brutish term. Perhaps “denial notification" would be appropriately softer.

In any case, if you're unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, check out this fascinating story about what students think of rejection letters (I'm sorry—denial notifications). A while back, they rated letters in various categories:

- Worst letter

- Most obsequious while maintaining utter insincerity (Harvard, hands down)

- Least number of words you need to read before you know you are being rejected

(Northwestern: “After…")

- Most emphatic (Cornell!!!)

- Shortest (Cal Poly: one sentence (!))

- Least original (many: word-for-word lookalikes that are distinguished only by the

overall rejection numbers they plug into the letter)

- Total insensitivity (Reed College – gotta see this to believe it)

- Best bone-headed empathy (this writer's contribution based on information from an

article comment: Bryn Mawr – “Please let us know if you need help finding a suitable

college." LOL.

A wonderful look into the minds of the admissions offices, no? Yes!

Okay, why am I bringing this up? Well, I think it's high time for the admissions people to give their applicants some kind of return on their application-fee investment. I'm proposing here a Common Denial Notification Form (CDNF). It would contain check boxes and some free-writing space for the folder readers through whose hands the application passes in which to comment and, finally, for the Dean of Admissions him/herself to summarize to the hapless frosh wannabe just why it ain't gonna happen.

Check-box categories could include:

- Your essays sucked (or some reasonably similar sentiment).

- Should have picked better references.

- You call that a GPA?

- We had lots of better picks from your school.

- We fell asleep reading your brag sheet.

- Your interviewer didn't like your “Bush-Cheney" tee shirt.

- We read your Facebook!

- Your 40-pound “I can't bear to go elsewhere!" frowning teddy bear was over the top.

- Etc.

Seriously, folks, I'm serious. Colleges need to eliminate the vagaries of their rejection missives. A college debater using the obsequious insincerity approach would be trounced by the competition. So, then:

ATTENTION ADMISSIONS DEPARTMENTS: If you're gonna turn us down, at least have the motivation and decency to take the time to tell us why—specifically. If the average applicant folder gets a total of 30 minutes' review and the application fee is $60, then your process is charging a labor rate of $120 per hour. How about some return on our investment?

Imagine how helpful this would be for all the ED/EA applicants out there. You could offer some genuinely helpful counsel by pointing out application deficiencies, even errors. Then there would still be time, however short, for corrective action. Hey, even Bryn Mawr offered to help their denied get in somewhere else.

Let's put some humanity in the process. How 'bout it?

Oh, by the way, be sure to check out my other college process-related articles at College Confidential.