College Decisions and a Challenging Year

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Most college decisions are in or will be very soon, and it’s a season of mixed emotions. The college application process is a rollercoaster, and late March to early April can either be a high, a low or somewhere in between. Between a pandemic and surge of test optional applicants, this has been one of the strangest and most unpredictable application seasons we’ve ever seen,  

Regardless of where you are on this crazy ride, you’re in good company. If you’re celebrating getting into your top choice college, you’re not alone. If you’re agonizing between two or more options, you’re not alone. And this year, especially, if you’re feeling the sting of rejection, you most certainly are not alone. This has been a heartbreaking year for many students, with an unusually high number of denials at selective schools.

According to Common App, college applications were up 10% in general, and the increase at elite schools was unprecedented. Early applications to MIT increased by 62%, Harvard by 57% and Colgate by an astounding 102%. Both NYU and UCLA received record-breaking numbers, with NYU receiving more than 100,000 applications and UCLA almost 140,000. In addition to test optional policies, more accessible information due to virtual tours and information sessions and more international applications also contributed to this surge. Colleges are also looking to add more diversity, including first generation students.   

It’s hard to be denied under any circumstances, and if you’re feeling disappointed by a college’s decision right now, this explanation doesn’t make it any easier. But we want to reassure you, we frequently hear from students who tell us the college they ended up at, even if it wasn’t their first choice, felt perfect in the end. They say they can’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s like planning a trip to France and going to Spain instead. 

But how do you navigate that period between right now and several months from now when you’re settled in your dorm and have the benefit of time to reflect on where you landed? We have some suggestions.

Allow yourself to be heartbroken. We understand that when your heart is set on your “dream school,” switching gears can be difficult. So it’s ok to take some time to be sad before you move on. 

Don’t obsess. While it’s fine to grieve, don’t dwell on the news or take it personally. When a college only accepts 6% or 10% or 16% among tens of thousands of applicants, the odds simply are not in your favor, even if your application is stellar. The selection process is complex, and often the decision is not “about you” – there are just too many qualified candidates or a college is basing its decisions on factors outside of your control. 

Focus on the amazing choices you do have. We worked hard to help you identify many schools where you would thrive, and there should be other options on your list that excite you. Explore your second and third choices again and visit them during Accepted Students Days, either virtually or in-person if you have that option. Think about specific opportunities you would take advantage of and the ways you would get involved on campus. Start to picture yourself there.

Decide if you want to remain on a waitlist. If you were waitlisted and want to hold out for a final decision, you will need to formally accept that status. Be aware that while students do get off waitlists, the odds aren’t encouraging. In addition, you may not get a decision until after May 1, so you will have to make a deposit on another school. If you aren’t sure what to do, we encourage you to talk to us about your waitlist strategy and next steps. 

And now, a word for you parents. We know you are on this rollercoaster ride, too, and we have some advice for you. Be supportive. In a recent newsletter article we explained how your reaction to your student’s disappointment can make all the difference. Remind them that character determines success, not where you go to college. And tell them again all the reasons you are proud of them.

We are so proud, too. This year challenged students in so many ways, and we will always look back on the Class of 2021 as extraordinary. We are glad we had the opportunity to work with you and cheer for you, and we are honored to have been a part of your college planning journey. 

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