A short treatise on college rejection.

I’ve been thinking about college rejection lately. Spring — March, especially — is the season for letters of rejection, and I wondered how our nephew and other HS seniors were doing. I have thought about it when we talk with Mod Squad Julie about college choices and which selective schools she is considering.

I thought about it quite a bit during Suzy Lee Weiss’s fifteen minutes of fame, which led me to think about appropriate ways to deal with rejection, especially since this is the first time many teens may experience such a clear-cut dismissal of their hopes.

Students can avoid rejection if they wish, with a number of options, including being realistic about their college choices.

  • DIY College Rankings offers 50-50 lists — colleges which accept more than forty-nine percent of their applicants and graduate more than forty-nine percent of their students within five years.
  • In Virginia, high school students can study two years at a community college and, with a B average, earn guaranteed admission into a state university. That’s the no-drama way to get into an excellent college, besides being extremely cost-effective.

Many thousands of high school seniors, however, will apply to a short list of very well known colleges, including the thirty that accept fewer than twenty percent of their applicants. Anyone choosing the path of most-selective-school-lottery needs to prepare to accept rejection.

As Lynell Engelmyer wrote in Who the Heck is Getting into Ivy League Schools: “Realize that the odds of getting into any of this country’s most selective colleges are quite remote. Try it, you don’t have a lot to lose, but be realistic.”

I realize when I write “appropriate ways to deal with rejection” that “appropriate” is highly subjective. You will see, by my selections below, where I stand:  an admissions rejection letter is just that. It is not the end of the world. I’m quite curious about how others think about this — please let me know in comments.

“I found myself with a choice.”

Leobardo Espinoza, Jr., a high school senior in Kansas, wrote How It Feels to Be Rejected by a ‘Reach School’, in The Choice, the NYT blog on college admissions:

I found myself with a choice. I could choose to be pessimistic or optimistic about what the future held for me. I had always been realistic, so instead I went with “none of the above” and refused to be any different than I had been in the past.

I may not have a say in whether a college accepts me or not, but I do have a say when it comes to my own destiny. I’ve made the decision to make the best of my college years wherever I go, and that’s what will happen.

“Be disappointed for a while, then move on.”

How to deal with college rejection, by Bonnie Miller Rubin, in the Chicago Tribune, wrote:

“Admissions is not about students — it’s about assembling a class on institutional priorities, whether that’s athletics, orchestra or getting more women into science and engineering,” said Patrick Tassoni of North Side Prep. “You can’t take it personally … but everyone does.”

Each year, Marybeth Kravets, a now-retired college counselor at Deerfield High School, sees applicants delaying a decision until mid-August, clinging to the wispy hope that they will be plucked from a wait list.

Her advice: Be disappointed for a while, then move on. To help with the letting go, the counselor would hold a “rejection” party in her office each year. Only those with a “We regret to inform you” letter were invited.

“He shrugged and offered me a drink.”

Required Reading for Parents. True Admissions shared Joan Didion’s essay, published in 1968, on being rejected by Stanford in 1952. Here’s a clip, though I recommend you read the entire essay.

My rejection was different, my humiliation private: No parental hopes rode on whether I was admitted to Stanford, or anywhere. Of course my mother and father wanted me to be happy, and of course they expected that happiness would necessarily entail accomplishment, but the terms of that accomplishment were my affair. Their idea of their own and of my worth remained independent of where, or even if, I went to college. Our social situation was static, and the question of “right” schools, so traditionally urgent to the upwardly mobile, did not arise. When my father was told that I had been rejected by Stanford, he shrugged and offered me a drink.

“Your brains matter more than your alma mater.”

From the excellent “Should I go to college? The FAQ from The Atlantic. I recommend the entire FAQ; see the screenshot on not getting in, below:

The Atlantic. Should I go to college?

“You can’t shield your student from this moment.”

From College Parent Central, College Acceptance — or Rejection Letters: Ten ways parents can help students cope:

Recognize that you can’t shield your student from this moment. Although, as parents, we always want to make things better for our children, your student must come to his own terms with the news he receives.  As difficult as this time may be, this is one of many steps toward independence and maturity that your child will face in the coming years.

“Let’s put our arm around the shoulders of kids who got rejected.”

Jon Boeckenstedt, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management for Policy and Planning at DePaul University, in The Best Way to Deal with College Rejection, provided a different perspective.

Every time I hear about the collective angst over rejected teenagers, or every time I hear adults devising ways to help them cope with the sting, I think of this:  The 200,000 kids who enlisted in WWII before their 18th birthday, many of whom fought at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, The Battle of Anzio, or Omaha Beach.   And I’m not even one of those flag-waving patriots who chokes up at the National Anthem.

Those kids had it tough.  Many didn’t come back, and didn’t get a chance to attend their third-choice institution.

Let’s put our arm around the shoulders of kids who got rejected.  Tell them to keep their chins up, to move on, and to realize that in the end, this will probably be considered a minor setback.  And then, let’s do the same for ourselves.

“Would you be kind enough to send me a MAD rejection slip?”

Finally, do not miss this inimitable take on rejection from Mad magazine: “The Rejection Slip,” by Tom Hudson, as published in Mad magazine, July 1963 (Issue No.80), as found in Letters of Note. This is only a screenshot. Follow the link for all ten pages.

Screen shot; 1st of 10 pages.

Screen shot; 1st of 10 pages.

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Filed under Getting In

4 responses to “A short treatise on college rejection.

  1. Thanks for including College Parent Central in your article. More importantly, thank you for this thoughtful look at what so many students face each spring. It is difficult for parents, and others, to honor the feelings of students receiving these rejections yet help these young students keep things in perspective. I appreciate that you have included so many viewpoints in your article.

    • Thank you for your comment, Vicki. I feel badly for those students who share their application list far and wide, then have to respond to every friend, relative or neighbor’s question January through March. Better that they are aware up front of the consequences both of how selective that list is and of making it public. Thanks, again.

  2. Pingback: What Happens When? The College Admissions Calendar, expanded. | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

  3. Pingback: Three big reasons to visit colleges during Private College Week | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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