Time to get personal.
Coming out of my freshman year of college, I can say I am 100% happy where I am and everything worked out for me. The process of college admissions, however, just might have been the toughest couple of months of my life, and definitely the most emotionally exhausting. It’s hard for me to admit it officially, but of the seven schools I applied to, four flat out denied me, two put me in that nebula known as the waitlist, and one school gave me an acceptance letter. For anyone that has gone through this or something similar this year, my heart goes out to you, because I know that it is agonizing. As for the newly ascended high school seniors ready for the big college app journey starting this fall, I have some words of advice for how to deal with this tough situation, should it happen to you, and a few thoughts on how to avoid it.
To Avoid It…
1. Don’t be a School Snob
My problem when I sent in my applications was that I had a narrow field of vision for what I wanted out of a school. I wanted the big name, and most of the schools on my list were reach schools. It was a risk, but I had my mind set. Then I had a couple of target schools and a safety. Looking back from where I am now, I know that when people told me that the prestige of the school does not decide your own success in the long run, they were right. Any school you go to can give you what you want if you work for it, and don’t get a big head about what is going to work for you.
2. Make Sure they Know You
As awkward of a correspondence it can feel like, contact whichever admissions officer that covers your region. This will show that you have a genuine interest in the school (which hopefully you really do), and that can have a massive impact. If you are on the cusp of a decision, whether between an acceptance and a waitlist or a waitlist and a rejection, interest can keep you in the game.
3. Don’t Forget to Pursue Target and Safety Schools
Just having target and safety schools may seem like enough, but along the lines of #2, if you don’t show that you want to attend the college, your list may backfire on you. One of the schools that waitlisted me was one that everyone told me I would surely get into, and, to be honest, I just applied because my parents thought I needed it on my list. So I didn’t give it much attention at all, and they waitlisted me because they could not be sure that I would attend. Someone who communicated a love for the school deserved that spot on the accepted list more than me, and I absolutely agree with that.
4. Be Ambitious Without Being Foolish
I will never tell someone not to aim high, but there are conditions. It’s possible to shoot for those schools with big numbers for SAT averages and tiny ones for acceptance rates, but remember that when it gets to this level there are many more applicants that deserve to get in than the school can possibly accept. It is not a commentary on your own personal merit; that’s just how it works. Go for it–apply to those reach schools because you really could do it! Just have plenty of backup plans.
5. Make Sure You Like Your Safety School
It seems like this should go without saying, but think a little deeper. If, like me, your safety school ends up being your only option, how would you feel? Yes, there’s the obvious disappointment, but would you still be excited for school in the fall? Do you get that fuzzy feeling in your gut when you know you can see yourself somewhere? The moment of pure panic I had when I realized my safety school was likely where I would end up told me that I had done this part of the process entirely the wrong way.
If It Happens…
1. Find Everything Good About Your Acceptance
Go through the angst period. You are allowed to cry, punch pillows, scream a bit, or anything else you need to cope for a couple of days. Just don’t let it take over your life. Instead, throw yourself into building enthusiasm for the school that saw your value and wants you to become a part of its community. Find classes you want to take, talk to current students, visit again, and even look up famous alumni! If the school you will attend happens to be a safety that you are not thrilled with, it can help a lot to find alumni success stories that get you looking forward to your own bright future.
2. Work the Waitlist
If you are not fully satisfied with the acceptance you got and you have the possibility of getting off a waitlist or two, do not just wait to see if you hear back after May 1st has passed. Contact the admissions office and talk to your officer about what you have been up to. It’s been a while since you sent in your application, so there’s bound to be some new activities or accomplishments you can share to show them that you’re keeping busy. Maybe send in another recommendation from an alum of the school in question if you have a contact. Make sure they know that you want them, so they feel right in wanting you, too. This is what I did, and I am happily situated at one of my waitlist schools.
3. Keep a Brave Face
All while you are going through this rough time, there will be people who (annoyingly) get accepted to every school they apply to, or, worse, their dream school. That is fantastic for them, and you should be happy for them. It can just be tough to not feel a bit bitter. Try to turn a blind eye to the ecstatic Facebook and Instagram posts, and keep your focus on what you can do to improve your own situation rather than worry about anyone else’s. Hopefully you won’t encounter anything too awful, and your classmates will keep in mind that, while their admissions process is going well, that’s not the case for everyone.
Chin up. Deep breath. You’ll get through this fine, and you will get out of college what you put in. All of that sounds like a giant cliche that can’t possibly be true. but take it from someone who lived it–you have the capability to be a college admissions rockstar no matter what is in that envelope.