Over the next two weeks, most of the remaining admission decisions will be mailed home or posted on-line. This is almost always a time of celebration and sadness. For some students, it may be the first time they have experienced disappointment (which can be hard for both students and parents). Collectively, we have worked in college admission and college guidance for over thirty years. Therefore, we wanted to share a few pieces of advice that we have learned from our own personal experiences as well as from our colleagues in both admission and guidance. We also wanted to share a link to an interesting article that was written last year, by Malcolm Gauld, an award-winning author and president of the Hyde Schools.
To The Students
Hang in there! You are almost at the end of the process. If you applied to a balanced list of colleges you most likely will receive a range of admission decisions (acceptances, waitlists, and denies). It is vitally important that you celebrate every acceptance! Most teenagers around the world would give anything for the chance to attend one of these colleges. Always remember that selectivity in a college is not a measure of quality. You can receive an outstanding education at thousands of colleges and universities. Ultimately this process is not about the bumper sticker; it’s about what you make of the experience over the next four years. Millions of people through the years have gone on to be quite successful in spite of not being admitted to a “brand name” university. As Mr. Gould points out in the following article, admission decisions say very little about the student, and much more about the institution making those decisions. Here is a link:
If you have not already committed to attend a college, you have until May 1 to make a decision. We will touch on the waitlist situation in a moment, but you need to first focus on the colleges that have offered you admission. You may need to re-visit a few campuses and do some research before making a decision.
Ask the college for data pertaining to their freshman retention and 4-year graduation rates (most colleges give their 6-year graduation rate, yet very few parents are willing to pay for 6 years of college). Stop at the Career Center and ask about post-graduation success. They should be able to provide employment rates and average starting salaries by major. This is also the time to compare scholarship and financial aid packages from the colleges, and don't hesitate to ask for reconsideration if you have special circumstances or stronger offers from other schools.
If you are interested in pursuing a waitlist, fill out the initial reply card to remain active. You will still need to select a college from among those that have offered you admission. Once you have selected a college, you should also thank the other colleges where you have been admitted and let them know that you will not be enrolling. This helps them to determine whether they may need to use their waitlist. After that, you may want to consider actively pursuing a college where you have been waitlisted. Read the information that the colleges send regarding their waitlist. Typically, waitlist activity occurs in mid-to-late May, but occasionally schools will go to the list earlier. In late April or early May, you should send a letter/email to the admission office (preferably the representative for your home state if they have one), letting them know your sincere desire to attend their college in the fall. If you can tell a college that you will forfeit your deposit at another school in order to enroll, by all means do so. Demonstrated interest can play a significant role in the waitlist process.
Lastly, do not let the college process dominate the discussion for the next few weeks, or for that matter, the rest of your senior year. Life will change dramatically after high school, so enjoy the last few months that you will have with your family and friends.
To The Parents
Over the last seven months, your sons and daughters have logged more hours researching schools, filling out applications, and writing essays than many of us had to experience when we went through the college process 20+ years ago. Regardless of outcomes at individual colleges, we hope you will appreciate all that they have done.
As we mentioned earlier, it is important to celebrate every acceptance (this is exponentially important for parents to remember!) Equally important is how you handle the negative news. Several years ago, a colleague at another independent school shared a story about a family with whom she was working. The student was admitted to four or five outstanding universities. However, when he received negative news from one particular institution, his parents lamented, “Why did this happen to us?” That student was in the college office a short time later, in tears, not because he had been turned down by that one school, but rather because he believed he had let down his parents.
As parents, it is imperative that you temper your response if your child receives bad news. The words you select and your body language can have a lasting impact on your child (as evidenced by the example above.) It is important to support your child, let them know that they are going to be alright, and remind them of the old adage, "when one door closes, another door opens." Gaining admission to a highly selective college is arbitrary and says little about a student's potential for success in life. Look at the CEOs for the highest earning companies in the United States. The overwhelming majority of them did not attend "brand name" universities. Although it may be tempting, please avoid calling the college to vent your anger. Not only does it send the wrong message to your child, it can also hurt their chances for gaining admission in the future (remember that one third of all college students transfer after their freshman year.)
Lastly, it is important that we as a community respect each family’s privacy with regard to admission decisions. Some people would rather not share this information, especially at a parent gathering or on the sidelines of an athletic event, and it is never appropriate for parents to discuss who got in and who did not. The seniors, and by extension their parents, are the leaders in our community. Let’s set an example for the entire community to follow, celebrate the accomplishments of all of our seniors, and cherish these last few months with them.
This post was written by Sewickley Academy's Director of College Guidance Trevor H. Rusert and Assistant Director of College Guidance Laurel E. Brooks. Trevor and Laurel are both members of the Pennsylvania Association of College Admission Counseling (PACAC), National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS).