Celebrate Acceptances, Don’t Dwell on Rejections

April showers are unreliable in California, but college acceptance letters come every year like clockwork.  They are accompanied by their unwelcome cousin, rejection letters.  High school seniors have had a turbulent week this past week, of course paying more attention to the letters from colleges where they were not accepted than from colleges who said yes.

I always get a laugh when I share my philosophy:  It feels better to get an acceptance letter than a rejection.  But put yourself in the shoes of a 17-year old who has worked hard to earn high grades, while competing in sports, or playing an instrument, or doing some type of extra curricular activity, and maintaining a social life.  It’s not easy, and their ego is more fragile than you think.

Just like my colleague Dr. Rebecca Joseph, who teaches at Cal State LA and devotes quite a bit of time to working with underrepresented minority students on their college search, I’ve spent a good amount of time this week talking to mothers of students who were not accepted at many of the top-notch schools to which they applied.  (Rebecca’s HuffPost article is here.)  Here’s what I’ve been saying:  This process is humbling, and frustrating.  Colleges are not passing judgment on you, or your intelligence, or your ability to perform the work on their campus.  It’s a function of space.  Yale could accept four times the number of students they accept without reducing the quality of the applicants, but they don’t have room for that many students.  There are only so many spaces at each college.  Don’t take it personally – because they don’t know you as a person.

At the same time, take a long look at the colleges that DID express their interest in you.  Think about how great that acceptance letter felt!  Think about what it means – they saw your application file and said back to you – YES!  We see you contributing to our community.  We want you here.  Celebrate and consider the possibilities.

Think about it this way:  If you asked someone to go to the prom with you, and they said, “Well, let me see if someone better asks,” you would probably not want to wait around to see if their final answer was yes, would you?  That’s the wait list, or the appealed rejection.  Instead, find the person who said, “YES!  I would love to go to the prom with you.  We will have a great time!”  Here’s Yale’s Dean of Admissions’ advice in this regard.

For parents of 9th, 10th and 11th graders who are looking at friends going through this with their kids, the lesson is this:   if you want to maximize the acceptance letters and minimize the rejections, start early, be honest about your child’s grades, scores and accomplishments, and be open to a wide range of colleges.  There are 2,200 four-year colleges in the US.  They aren’t all Harvard and Yale, but there are lots of levels between community college and Yale.  You haven’t heard of all of them.   This is where I come in as an independent counselor – I spend time getting to know colleges so that I can recommend them to the right students.

That said, I’m leaving next Sunday for a 12-day tour of 18 colleges in four states.  I will try to post photos and comments regularly on Magellan’s Facebook page (click here and “Like” it!) and I’ll post summaries of my visit to each college when I return.

Here’s to success, and more acceptances than rejections!

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