As the parent of three daughters who are all at different stages in their lives, I can tell you first hand that life does not begin with an acceptance letter from Stanford, nor does it end with a rejection letter from UC Berkeley. Change the names of the colleges to any others, and my message remains the same.
Years ago, my oldest daughter was thrilled to get accepted to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, the hardest state school to gain admission to. After two years of study, she decided veterinary school was not in her future. She tried to pursue a different course of study, but changing your major at Cal Poly is nightmarish, to say the least. If you are not 100% committed to your major (and few teens are able to make such an important decision at 17 or 18), Cal Poly is not the right match. This daughter is now completing science classes at a community college to buttress her application to nursing schools.
My second daughter received her splendid acceptance letter from MIT three years ago this spring. She was ecstatic. It was and remains her first choice school. Still, the program of study is so intellectually demanding that she sometimes wonders where the balance in her life has gone. Did she ever have true balance? Can anyone who is able to achieve at the level necessary to gain admission to such an academically rigorous university ever able to live life at a pace that one might call "relaxed"? Hardly.
Daughter number three is presently a senior in high school and she is has just finished up her college applications. She worries about winning admission to the schools at the top of her list even though she has a GPA to die for and strong test scores. She has even managed to remain enthusiastically engaged in a few activities she loves, resisting the temptation to forfeit all the fun of her high school years in exchange for a straight ‘A’ transcript.
Somehow the admission frenzy has managed to scare our kids—even those at the top of the academic ladder—into thinking that their chances of getting into college are slim and getting slimmer each year. Instead of indulging in needless worry and anxiety, there are some constructive things seniors in high school can do while they wait to learn what their final college options are:
• First and foremost, relax and enjoy your senior year and last months living at home. Although it may seem as though you can’t wait to live on your own, this final year is memorable and precious. It will be gone in a flash. Make it count in meaningful ways.
• Continue to be actively engaged in doing your best academic work. This is critical because colleges review final transcripts to be certain no courses were dropped and grades did not plummet. If something does change for the better (like a scholarship is awarded) or for the worse (like a drop in grades due to illness) be proactive and communicate the news directly to the colleges.
• Visit schools you were not able to see yet. Don’t wait for the responses to visit these campuses. The decision deadline, May 1st, arrives soon after your admission decisions—so be prepared. If academic or financial concerns make visiting impossible, continue to familiarize yourself with colleges in other ways. Read blogs, examine course catalogues, review housing considerations, email faculty, students and undergraduate admission counselors to make comparisons that will help you make an informed decision when the time comes.
The Dreaded Wait-List
Colleges build a waiting list to ensure full freshman classes, since not all accepted students will enroll. This system is hard on students and their parents. If you get a wait list notice, decide whether you really want to attend the school before you agree to remain on the list. If you are accepted, you will only have a few days to decide. Also, investigate conditions attached to being wait-listed; you can lose priority housing or financial aid options. Some schools rank waiting lists. If you can learn where you place on the list, you will be a better position to examine your options. Remember, schools will not decide who will be admitted off the waiting list until the May 1st decision deadline has passed. So you will need to prepare to attend another school by sending in a deposit. If you are admitted off the wait-list, you will forfeit your deposit.
It is most important to have confidence in yourself. Research shows that 9 out of 10 students get in to their first or second choice school. You will get through college admission and develop maturity and resilience as a result. Remember, your life is much bigger than an acceptance or rejection letter from a particular college.
Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an educational consultant and certified college admissions advisor. Her goal is to help students and their families understand the admissions process, research college and career options, create a customized college list and submit a strong and cohesive application. She is familiar with local high schools and has guided three daughters through the college admissions process in addition to more than 300 clients. Dr. LaScala is an active member of NACAC, WACAC, and HECA and earned a certification in College Admissions and Career Planning from University of California at Berkeley. Contact her at (925) 891-4491 or email@example.com.
This is the fifth in a six-week series of blogs about applying to college by admission advisor Elizabeth LaScala and Teen Wire high school senior Daniel Morizono - showing both sides of the coin, so to speak. Topics cover everything from pressures to apply early, to parental involvement, to dealing with acceptance, rejection and the hated wait-list option.