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When it came to college admissions, the question was never “Will Tracie* be admitted to the college of her choice?” It was only, “Who will pay her the most to go to their school?”

After all, Tracie was less than 200 points shy of a perfect 2400 on her SAT; she made the highest possible score on all five of her AP Exams ; she had a solid GPA, had studied abroad, and she even started her own small business while in high school. No one thought Tracie would be denied admission anywhere.

Yeah. It didn’t turn out quite like that.  She was admitted to one: her last choice, her safety school. She was wait-listed at another and denied—flat-out rejected—by the other two. Crazy. Truly mind boggling.

Caveat: All along, I thought Tracie should choose the state school closer to her home. It is an excellent university and I thought she would thrive there.  Plus, I’ve never much cared for those exclusive schools with the skinny little admission rates. But that’s not the point. Tracie was an outstanding applicant with superior qualifications.

I still cannot believe she did not get into the schools she dreamt of attending. It makes no sense. But then, the fact is the admissions process is not fair. It’s just not. You can do everything nearly perfectly, as Tracie did, and still not make the cut. (You can also do very little right and get admitted, but that’s another blog post.) At many schools, when it comes to the final decision, it is almost random selection.

So students (and parents) dealing with college admissions disappointments, listen up. I have something to say. You may feel free to read these aloud. Preferably while looking in a mirror. Possibly commit them to memory.

  1. You are more than the sum of your rejection letters.
  2. Say that again. You ARE more than the sum of your rejection letters!
  3. There was nothing else you could have done to increase your chances of admittance. Rejection happens for so many reasons unrelated to you. Stop obsessing about what you should have or could have or might have. You gave it your best and your best is fantastic! You have no reason to be ashamed or regretful.
  4. On the other hand, maybe you could have done something to get into your dream school. Maybe, if you had played a sport or practiced your music more or started a nonprofit that eliminated world hunger while simultaneously providing potable drinking water around the globe . . . maybe then . . . . But you know what? Perfection is a lie. It doesn’t exist. So, seriously, let it go.
  5. It isn’t fair. Like many other things in life, this is absolutely not fair. Likewise, it’s not fair that some kids have loving parents and some don’t, that bullies don’t get caught, or that hungry people don’t get fed.  But I digress. The entire college admissions system is built on glaring inequities (i.e. athletic ability over academic potential, legacy students who are just barely eligible over high-performing newcomers, plus, application fees that shut out students with limited financial resources, just to name a few). It is totally not fair. It stinks.
  6. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel. (My mother says feelings are just feelings–not moral indictments. My mother is right.) Listen, you worked hard at this and now it seems like you’ve failed. Your dreams matter; and it’s sad when one dies. It is completely right and even good that you should grieve. Really. Allow yourself to experience the depth of it. Once you touch the bottom, though, when you are ready, push off of it and start swimming for the surface. Just look for the light (I promise it’s there) and keep reaching up.
  7. Do not let this one experience limit who you believe yourself to be. You see, as good as your application was, it didn’t begin to say how awesome you are. Did your application show how easily you laugh? How deeply you appreciate quality music? How enthralled you are by really great writing? Do those admissions officers understand that the way you love your sibling defies all modern logic? That your heart has a greater capacity than most? That you never give up on your friends and that you intentionally form friendships that cross the boundaries of race, religion, and politics? No. They don’t know any of those things. You are beautiful and imperfect, whole and broken, complete and unfinished. You are a multifaceted marvel.
  8. Now allow yourself to hope again. Great things grow out of deep loss. Believe it. Expect it. Your future is waiting. And you really are enough.

*Name changed for privacy. Class of 2015.

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.