Everyone believed Patricia* would gain admission to any college she chose. An exceptional student, Patricia was less than 200 points from 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.
Despite all of that, her college admissions results were far from favorable. She was wait-listed at one college (later denied), flat-out rejected by two others. Patricia was admitted to one university: her last choice, her safety school. The whole thing was baffling. Truly mind boggling.
All along, I thought Patricia 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: Patricia was an outstanding applicant with superior qualifications.
IT’S NOT FAIR
All this happened back in 2015, and I still can’t believe Patricia did not get into her dream schools.But here’s the thing: the college admissions is not fair. It’s just not. A student can do everything nearly perfectly, as Patricia did, and still not make the cut. For the record, you can also do very little right and get admitted. At many schools, when it comes to the final decision, it is almost random selection.
So students (and parents) here are 7 things to remember about college admissions.
7 THINGS TO REMEMBER
- You are more than the sum of your rejection letters. Did you get that? Say it aloud. “I AM more than the sum of my rejection letters!”
- There is nothing else you could have done to increase your chances of admittance. Rejection happens for so many reasons unrelated to you. Stop obsessing about should’ve/could’ve/might’ve. You gave it your best and your best is fantastic! You have no reason to be ashamed or regretful.
- Perfection is a lie. If you didn’t believe #2, then you might still be thinking of all the things you could have done. Maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, but I could have been more athletic. I only played one sport.” Or, “You don’t get it–I could have practiced my music more and gotten more lessons.” Or, “If only I had started that non-profit….” Listen to me. Perfection is a lie. Humans make mistakes. We use our time unwisely. We procrastinate. We miss opportunities. This is the nature of life. We make poor choices, suffer the consequences, and refocus our intentions. The only place perfection exists is in the theoretical, not the actual. Creating an error-free version of your past is an exercise in imagination, not reality. So do that, if you want to write fiction. But if you want an honest look at your admissions results, stop telling yourself all the ways you could have done it better. Why? Read #4.
- It isn’t fair. Like many other things in life, college admission 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.
- 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 reach the bottom, push off of it and start swimming for the surface. Just look for the light (I promise it’s there) and keep reaching up.
- 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.
- 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.