Don’t Let Disappointment Derail You

Well, it is certainly an understatement to say it’s been a year. I think we all need a very deep cleansing breath to move forward into whatever the “new normal” holds for us. Despite the disruptions to our lives, the college admission cycle for the class of 2025 carried on in one of the most unprecedented cycles on record.

We already know a lot about this year’s admission cycle, and I am looking forward to plowing through the data as it becomes available and sharing more about what we have learned from this year.

For starters, fewer students applied to college this year, but they applied to more schools. Over the past years, there have been whispers of schools considering dropping the standardized test requirements, and a few mavericks put the talk into action. However, this year, a record number of colleges went test optional due to the difficulty in administering a proctored exam in the middle of a pandemic.

The dropping of SAT or ACT requirements by the most selective colleges in the country caused huge increases in applications to these schools. Overall, application rates at these schools were up causing acceptance rates to fall. This translates to a lot more high-school seniors receiving denial letters from schools on their lists. For many of you, this is one of the biggest disappointments you have faced, so having a plan to cope will help you move forward and prepare for a great year at the college you ultimately choose to attend.

You are Not Alone

There can be comfort in numbers. Consider this, Harvard received 57,435 applications for the class of 2025. They admitted 1,968 – that’s an admittance rate of 3.4%. It means that 55,467 students who applied to Harvard received denial letters or offers to join the wait list. Harvard received over 17,000 more applications for the class of 2025 than for the class of 2024. This same story is being played out at selective colleges across the country.

We know there are more than 1,968 talented, smart, and driven students who would thrive at Harvard or any other college. Yet only this tiny number were admitted. A denial letter from a college with an admittance rate of less than 10% says more about the college’s inability to better manage their admissions process and to meet demand than it does about your awesomeness and ability to thrive at that school.

Focus on Your Offers

It is always disappointing to have a possible path closed to you, but one way to cope is to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. Now is the time to dive deeply into the colleges where you are accepted.

Talk to the admissions office to connect with current students at each campus, really study the courses they offer in your areas of interest and start to picture what it would be like for you to live and learn on that campus.

I enjoyed reading Bill Murphy’s blog, “They had Their Chance” this week. Murphy talked to a group of successful professionals who were not accepted at their first-choice schools but had amazing experiences at the schools they attended and went on to fulfilling careers. There is life after the denial letter, and Murphy’s blog lets us see what it looks like many years after college graduation.

Get Excited about Your Choice

I think every student and parent involved in the college admissions cycle should read the work of Brandon Busteed. When Busteed was at Gallup, he spearheaded research to measure the outcomes of higher education in a collaboration with Purdue University. Busteed says, “The type of institution, whether it is prestigious, private, or highly selective, doesn’t matter. What matters a lot is having at least one professor who makes you excited about learning, professors who care about you as a person, and a mentor who encourages your goals and dreams.” Alarmingly, this research found that only 14% of all college graduates strongly agree that they had all three of these experiences during their time as an undergraduate student.

You can create an amazing college experience for yourself that will translate to career success by focusing on achieving these three important experiences no matter what college you attend.

Keep Things in Perspective

When I began the application process for my Ph.D., I had an amazing mentor at the University of Tulsa, Dr. Bob Jackson. Dr. Jackson helped me through the difficult process of graduate admissions, and one of the things he said to me that helped me keep things in perspective was, “apply to 10-12 schools and consider yourself lucky if you get an acceptance at one.” I kept that knowledge with me as I went through the process.

Somehow, knowing that admittance was not guaranteed no matter how high my GRE and GPA was, how many conference presentations I gave, or articles I published made an insane system more understandable. I only needed one acceptance to achieve my goal of a Ph.D. because I could only attend one school. The schools where I was denied or where I chose not to attend didn’t matter. All that ultimately mattered to me was the one school where I matriculated and received my degree.

Find Mentors and Cheerleaders to Encourage You

Perhaps what is worse than receiving the denial letter is telling people you were not accepted. Here is where you need a circle of mentors and cheerleaders who are on your side. They need to be reminding you of all the things about you that are wonderful. You want that smiling face to tell you, “ ___ University who sent you that denial didn’t even deserve you! You are a fantastic person, and any college would be lucky to have you. Look at these great choices that you do have.”

Make sure you have these cheerleaders on your side as you move through the process, and if you are the cheerleader, make sure your student knows you love and care about them regardless of what schools admit or deny them. It’s been a long year and a tough admissions cycle. Be kind and seek out kindness.

Your College List Matters

Bell & Arch Consulting specializes in helping students form a well-balanced college list. I help you identify your stretch schools, target schools, and foundation schools so that you have a strong list of schools that you would be very excited to attend. If you are preparing for upcoming admissions cycles, I can help you discover colleges that are a perfect fit for you.

Remember you are awesome!