Why college rejection might be a blessing in disguise
The mail carrier walks up to your postbox, opens the door and deposits an envelope that holds the key to your teenager’s plans for the next four years. As you reach in, you see the return address from College X, your son or daughter’s first choice. Heart beating, you bring the letter inside to wait for your student to open it.
Four options are possible — acceptance, being on a wait list, deferment/mid-year admittance or rejection. The first is easy, the next two offer options, but what about the fourth? Well, unless the college made a mistake, the decision is pretty much final — signed, sealed and delivered.
Read the rejection letter carefully. What does the wording reveal? Remember that admissions officers must choose diverse entering classes. While your son or daughter may have incredible gifts and talents, the college must create a well-rounded class.
Universities consider many different factors — GPA, extracurricular activities, service, test scores, and personal essays and interviews. To avoid cookie-cutter classes, colleges must draw from a wide variety of geographical regions, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, academic fields, athletic abilities and artistic experiences, among many other considerations. This year, they may have needed oboe players, more students from the Midwest, tennis stars and/or future physicists. If your teen’s resume didn’t match the college’s criteria, he or she may not have made the cut.
Once your teen has mourned the loss of a first-choice college, he or she needs to move to Plan B. What, there is no Plan B? It’s time to develop one. Your teenager can:
Consider offers from second- or third- or fourth-choice colleges. As the saying goes, you should never put all your eggs in one basket. Your teen may be surprised to discover these “safety” schools actually offer a better fit, offer better financial aid packages, or offer academics and programs that rival or exceed the first-choice school.
Consider a gap year. Your student can work, travel, or intern in their desired career field. And who knows? If the year is a productive one, your student may re-apply to that first-choice school and get accepted.
Consider a community college to earn affordable college credits. Encourage your teenager to meet early with a counselor to ensure all the college work will transfer. After a semester or two, your student can apply to a four-year college; the final diploma comes from the four-year institution, so your family will save some money in the process. Consider a brand new college. In late spring, some universities discover they have openings for first-year students. Your teen can meet with a high school counselor to discuss options or visit a reputable nonprofit site (like the regional New England Board of Higher Education) to learn which schools have openings.
Consider spending the next year learning a new skill, boosting an ACT score, or learning a new language. Anything that sets your teenager apart from the crowd is an advantage in the college admissions process.
Like so much in life, college decisions are subjective. Encourage your teen to seek out better and brighter alternatives. Try not to let any parental disappointment you harbor seep into your language. The day may soon arrive when both you and your student view the rejection as the best opportunity ever.
Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. She is a mom and has a master’s of education in guidance and counseling. For more college and career-planning information, visit www.act.org.