The (*$%^&@!) YOWCH of College Admissions

Detour Ahead Image SignTo the Senior and possibly their parents, who’ve been anxiously awaiting December 15th early admissions notification deadlines, checking their email every 30 seconds from midnight, a college admissions denial email can sound like: “We received a record number of blah, blah, blah–oh, my goodness, JUST TELL ME IF I’M IN OR NOT ALREADY–and while you’re, blah blah blah–we could not offer you admissions at this time…” Whatever words come after that, are often not read or the entire message is deleted instantaneously–possibly accompanied by a string of words not rated appropriate for an educational blog, at a tone heard on Jupiter.    The disappointment is palpable.  The indignation immediate.  The open jawed, rawness of the rejection is a simultaneous swirl of righteousness and doubt.   No words can bring comfort.  Parents are often just as disillusioned as their offspring, hurt with the powerlessness of not being able to protect their babies from suffering, trying to reassure (themselves, as much as their child) and share their wisdom.  No silver lining can be seen in the instantaneous, band-aid ripping shock of a denied college admissions.

No one wants to be told, “No.”  Let me repeat that:  No one wants to be told, “No.”

For a 17 year old, who’s risen to the top of his/her high school class, is part of the generation that received a trophy just for participating in every activity, put in the effort to complete the application in the middle of their crazy, busy Senior schedule and has been dreaming about a highly selective college since starting pre-K, the denied college admissions can feel like an inditement on their personhood, as well as their entire life’s work.   What can compound this typical reaction is the lack of explanation from the university about why one student is denied, when a similarly qualified student at the same high school, who is actually a friend, was admitted.  The seemingly subjective nature of the admissions decision making can fuel assumptions, swinging the student between blaming the admissions office and questioning their every activity and homework assignment since birth.    Requests for answers at admissions offices may not yield any specific explanations, only a  standard response about an appeal process that’s difficult to navigate and rarely results in overturning the initial admissions decision.  Once all these avenues are exhausted, and the emotion settles for a moment, and no other reasonable explanation can be conjured, then there’s an opportunity to learn from life’s disappointments.  The busy-ness of daily life will help reduce the sting, as well as subsequent admissions decisions that are favorable.   The student and their parents will turn to the college choices they do have and make final decisions from there.  Eventually, (and eventually has no set time frame), the student and their parent may see the silver lining or understand that “the closed door left a window open”, but not at the moment.  Denied college admissions are simultaneous tests, and molding of our character.  They can become the “what ifs…” that fuel the “what’s next…” in life and become the “if only, I would’ve…”  at the same time.   What Seniors may be learning from an early admissions denial is that their intention to go to college to “grow-up” may start earlier than actually moving to campus.

Photo Credit: Art Baird, Creative Marbles Consultancy 2012

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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