The end of the year is usually when colleges begin sending out admission decisions for early action and early decision applications.
It is easy to imagine why this may be a time of uncertainty for applicants. A time of increasing stress, with dozens of questions and “what ifs” floating about and emotions swinging between eager expectations and unsettling worries.
Perhaps you are finding yourself in this situation, as you are receiving or about to receive admission decisions from the colleges to which you applied.
What should these decisions mean or not mean for you?
Lamentably, there are many misconceptions about the implication of admission decisions, especially when you are denied admission.
Allow me to share some of the wisdom I have acquired about the myths and truths of college admission denials through my long-time experience working as an educator and an educational consultant.
Myth #1: You have been judged negatively as a person
Truth: It is primarily an evaluation of who you are as a student
Of course, it may feel like the denial was a negative judgment of who you are as a person. After all, it seems like the college is telling you that you are not “worthy” of being admitted to their school. But that is far from true.
College admission officers evaluate a limited slice of your life. They look at your grades and standardized test scores primarily. While you surely put forth your best efforts, this information still only gives a glimpse into one part of you. That is why those numbers are not realistic as a basis for a large-scale judgment of who you are as a whole. They evaluate you as a student, not if you are a good or bad person.
Myth #2: The application process was not fair
Truth: The lack of transparency of the admission process can make the decision seem unfair
Yes, it may seem unbelievably unfair that you did not get admitted. Often what may frustrate you most is that the whole process is not as transparent as you would like it to be.
Perhaps you want to know why you received a denial notice, and it has been difficult to get an answer from the college. That is not unusual. For various reasons, most colleges will not tell you why you were denied—including privacy concerns or wishing to avoid an argument. Therefore, they may give very neutral replies to your inquiry, not saying much at all.
Most likely, though, you do not have to ask a college why you were denied. If you really want to be honest with yourself, it is usually pretty clear why you did not get into a school. As noted before, your academic profile—grades, standardized test scores, and the difficulty of classes you have been taking—is the most important information colleges consider. When this profile does not fit the standards of a particular school, you will have little chance to get admitted.
But what if your numbers are clearly within the range and averages of what a college is looking for, and yet, you still did not get in?
Most often, this happens when you apply to a highly selective university. In that case, the reason for being denied even with a great academic profile is because the limited number of these types of schools usually get so many applications that they truly have to turn most of them away. Take it as a life lesson. Unfortunately, despite awesome test scores, that is simply the nature of how colleges make decisions at times. Nobody can tell you why it was you who was denied and not somebody else.
Myth #3: All your high-school hopes and dreams have come to an abrupt and disappointing end
Truth: Your whole high school process has been preparing you for more than just that one moment of denial or admission to a particular college.
Perhaps you feel that everything you have done in high school—all the hopes and dreams, the emotions, the late nights studying, the stress, the application process—has come down to this denial. Maybe you are utterly devastated and disappointed because it feels like the end of everything you worked for. It seems as if your whole 12 year-long schooling process has been for nothing.
But is that really true? Have you truly lost it all? Is that not a little bit of a fatalistic perspective?
In reality, your hopes and dreams do not have to depend on where you go to college. Thinking of a denial to a specific college as a total loss of all your life’s efforts and time is the wrong perspective. If you take that perspective, you certainly will lose out.
Instead of staking all your hopes and dreams on this one chance, why not see it as a beginning, not an end. This is the launching point of your adult life. There are many great colleges that have a lot of wonderful things waiting for you. It has little to do with getting into a particular college, but everything with what happens after you get into college. Make that your most important focus.
Myth #4: Your future life is completely ruined
Truth: A denial is in no way a predictor of who or how happy, healthy, and successful you will be in the future.
Aside from believing your school years were a total loss, catastrophic thinking may lead you to irrational worst-case scenarios. You may feel that your future has been radically transformed in a negative direction, that you will never be successful nor achieve your goals in life, and that your entire future has been completely ruined by this denial.
It is unwise to engage in this type of unrealistic thinking. There is overwhelming evidence that people who go to college, work hard, find a mentor, focus on a major, take an internship, and work on substantive projects while in school have a remarkable level of success in life. No matter which college they go to.
It is not as simple as saying “if I go to college X, I will be successful.” Adult life is just not that easy. You cannot narrow it down to that factor. In fact, someone can get into the college of their dreams, and yet, because they do not work to the best of their ability there, fail to succeed. Where you go to college does not control your future happiness nor the success of your entire life.
A Note to Students Who Are Ready to Apply to College
One last piece of wisdom. There are some people that may make you feel as if getting into a certain college is the most important thing in life. That is not true. I advise you not to listen to them.
Because my extensive experiences have taught me that the most important matter a student who is getting ready to apply to college should focus on is having a list of well-selected schools. That is the foundation.
Of course, that means work. It means making an honest, authentic decision about where you would like to apply, not just simply choosing the most popular colleges. It calls for thoughtful deliberation—taking into account your personality, the kind of student you are, what goals you have, and what you can afford.
Ultimately, it is all about the right choice for you, not about applying to the colleges that are the most prestigious. And when you start your application process with the right mindset, generating a realistic list of schools that fit you personally, the process will be more enjoyable and satisfying.
My experience as an Independent Education Consultant can help you with that process. I specialize in helping high school students investigate the possibilities of a college education. If you would like to know more, please contact me.