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Admissions Letters are Coming - What if Your Child Doesn’t Get In?

By Laura Whitmore

This is a very exciting time of year for high school seniors across the country. If they applied Early Action or Early Decision, they will be receiving letters from schools this month! Others are wrapping up their application processes ahead of the regular decision deadline in January.

The anticipation and wait game can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. Your son or daughter may have their heart dead-set on a particular school. You worry how they will handle rejection if a thin legal envelope arrives instead of a thick manilla folder.

What if they don’t get in?

It is more competitive than ever to get into a “good school.” With Ivy league and top-tier schools’ acceptance rates hovering in single-digits or teens, it is hard to determine how or why certain students get accepted. Parents scratch their heads when they see students at the top of their class and with high SAT scores get rejected.

The reality is that almost everyone applying to those brand name schools graduated at or near the top of their class and crushed the standardized test. Those are now expected prerequisites. Schools are looking for differentiating factors, or “hooks,” that sets a student apart. If your child is a phenomenal lacrosse player, virtuoso at the cello, or founder of a non-profit organization related to their passion/intended major, then they have a hook and it helps their chances.

Aside from hooks, there are other demographic factors that come into play that are completely outside of your child’s control. Schools currently are looking to diversify their student bodies with populations that are extremely underrepresented at their elite schools. For example, students who are rural or first generation (meaning, their parents/grandparents never attended college) have a higher likelihood of gaining acceptance over students who hail from more common backgrounds. This is a major reason why most schools are sticking with a test-optional policy: it allows them more leighway in the selection process so that they can admit marginalized students, who historically score lower on standardized tests, without the repercussions of falling down in the coveted US News & World Report rankings.

In addition to the desire to accept students from more diverse backgrounds, schools also are looking to “round out” the freshman class. This means that if they already accepted 65% girls in the early decision rounds, they will be more apt to accept boys in the regular decision round. Your child’s rejection letter may come down to where they live, what their intended major is, and what type of school they go to. That being said, if they do get rejected from a school, their knee-jerk reaction may be to think, “what is wrong with me? Why wouldn’t they want me?” But, it probably has nothing to do with the strength of their candidacy and they need to know that. That particular school just couldn’t find how they would fit into their blueprint.

I truly believe that students are meant to be where they are supposed to be. A rejection letter may initially feel like the end of the world to a student, but it is also a sign that there are better options out there for them. It is important for our students to recognize this and not place their self-worth in the hands of admissions officers who don’t even really know them. Of course, disappointment is a natural emotion that should be experienced and worked through in the event of a rejection. On the other side of that disappointment comes faith. If we help our students adopt the mindset of faith that everything will turn out for the best and they will be where they are meant to be, the college application process can be an enjoyable journey for them instead of a painful and dejecting process.


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