I truly don't know what to say to my clients when they receive the dreaded letter telling them they've been denied admission to their first choice college. I know I could say that some wonderful schools have admitted them, that thousands of other students are sharing their pain, that years from now their misery will be a distant memory, or that they will come through this experience and be all the stronger for it. But, while all these things are true, I can hear my words ringing hollow in their ears - these are not the words they want to hear. It is anticipated that next year's freshman class will hit a record breaking 2.9 million students and colleges have received more applications than ever before. Harvard accepted a mere 6.9% of its undergraduate applications and Stanford's accepted only 7.2%. The University of Chicago saw a 42% increase in applications this year and accepted only 18% of those, down dramatically from the 27% of the applicant pool that received acceptance letters just last year. So, those finding themselves holding the "thin envelope" are in good company.
Few students seriously consider what they will do if they aren't accepted at their first choice school. While they will talk about the merits of their Plan B colleges, it is rarely with the passion or intensity with which they describe their dream school. So, after months of working hard to put together an application packet that seemed like the ticket to admission, it's hard not to ruminate on what could have been done differently or better. But a more productive response is to seize this opportunity to reconsider your options.
First choice schools aren't the only doorway to a bright future. Myriad opportunities await and chances are that you are holding acceptance letters from several wonderful colleges. Now that you must rethink where you want to go, give each of these schools the careful consideration they deserve. Don’t give undue weight to the school’s name or reputation – focus instead on defining your own educational values, priorities, and ideals to determine which school is the best match for you.
Don’t let this experience change your assessment of yourself. Those schools that accepted you value and recognize the ways that you will contribute to their communities. Colleges provide far more opportunities for internships, travel, research, athletics, social and extracurricular activities than any one student could ever exhaust. More important than the school you go to is what you make of your experience while you are there.
Where my words commonly fail, perhaps the oft quoted wisdom of Warren Buffet might bring some solace. Years after being rejected by Harvard Business School, Mr. Buffet reflected, "The truth is everything that has happened in my life... that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better."
So, congratulate yourself for getting a rejection letter. That means that you stuck your neck out, took a risk, and tested your upper limits. And some college is eagerly awaiting your arrival.
Reprinted with permission from Metrowest Daily News.