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  • Writer's pictureNancy Fries

Early Disappointment

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Cleveland Indians’ Michael Martinez shows his disappointment after making the last out as the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series.

Have you ever noticed how forlorn the losing team looks after the last game of the World Series? My heart always aches for them, but I also kind of wonder why they’re quite so glum. After all, they made it that far. Corny as it sounds, aren’t they winners just for being on that field?

I feel the same way about the high school seniors who weren’t accepted to their top choice colleges in this first round of admission decisions. Early decision and early action can be cruel to intelligent, accomplished students who receive their first denial, often in the vacuum of a single application. Many of these students have never known a disappointment that hurts so deeply. Dreams feel shattered and years of hard work seem pointless.

But consider this thought from a friend of mine: “I’m so happy for everyone,” she said. “Just to be able to consider applying to all these amazing schools says so much about all these great kids.” I couldn’t agree more. People say applying to uber-selective colleges such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT is like playing the lottery. With acceptance rates well below 10%, it is kind of like a lottery. But it’s unlike a lottery from the standpoint that to have any real chance of winning, you have to be a contender.  Sure, anyone can apply, but to be a real contender means you’ve done well in high school, you’re confident in yourself, you have high aspirations, and you’re worthy of consideration. So if you applied believing you had a legitimate chance, and if you were willing to take that chance knowing the odds were against you, you really do deserve congratulations. Congratulations for believing in yourself, for being brave enough to try, for putting together your best possible application.

If your first answer from a college is no, it might be hard to keep believing in yourself. You might question your qualifications, or you might be angry with the admissions committee for not seeing how terrific you are. Maybe they accepted someone else from your school who seems less qualified. Maybe you dreamed of attending this college since you were a little kid, and it all just seems unfair. Don’t for a second doubt yourself.

Selective colleges inevitably turn away great candidates. You’ll probably never know exactly why you weren’t accepted, unless the college was a reach from the start. But if you seemed like a worthy candidate, know that you weren’t rejected because you didn’t do Youth & Government freshman year, or because you got that B+ in AP World. It wasn’t one little thing, and maybe it wasn’t anything, other than the fact that they turn away more outstanding applicants than they accept.

For the last six weeks or so, you’ve been completely wrapped up in the possibility of attending one particular school. Now, wrap your arms around six or eight other schools. Love them all. Make sure you have a good balance of reach, 50-50, and likely colleges, all of which you would be happy to attend. Spend time over winter break fine tuning your applications and essays to reflect your personal qualities and strengths.  Remember that applying to more high reach schools doesn’t increase your chance of getting into any one of them. It only increases your chance of further disappointment.

If you’ve built your list wisely, you won’t be completely disappointed again. Next year at this time, as you finish your first semester at a college you’ll probably love and head home for the holidays, this heartache will be a distant memory.

For this year’s early admission statistics at some of the most selective colleges, check out this article in Business Insider.


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