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Brian Harke Ed.D. Headshot

March Madness: College Admissions

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March madness is upon us, serving up nail biting, gut-churning, adrenaline fueled anticipation. But I'm not talking about basketball. I'm referring to the anxiety that high school seniors experience each March as they await their college acceptance letters.

Like many associated with college admissions departments, I have started to receive dire calls and e-mails from potential students hoping for an early indication of their admittance status. As I reflect on these communications I realize how controlling we have allowed the college admissions decision to become.

Yes, getting into your first pick college is important, but let's keep it in perspective. Being accepted by your first choice college is certainly something to celebrate, but it's not the end of the world if it doesn't work out exactly as you'd hoped. Too often I see students who don't get admitted into their first pick college beat themselves up, think they did something wrong, or succumb to the belief that they weren't good enough. I've heard of friendships that end because one student got admitted to the college and the other didn't. To add to the drama, parents often take the admittance or denial as a personal victory or defeat. Some wear it as a badge of pride while others blame themselves and see it as failure. It isn't!

Here are some things to keep in mind if you receive a denial letter from your first pick college:

1. The process is very subjective. Forget about your GPA, SAT score and all the advance placement classes you took. Yes, the numbers are important, but when compared to other's scores they are just that: numbers. Looking at applications through a quantitative lens, one would think that the highest scores should get accepted. Oh, if it were that easy. There is a qualitative component that makes getting admitted to college much more subjective than most students and parents realize. Subjectivity comes into play as application reviewers contextualize what you have submitted in comparison to what they have reviewed in the past. Reviewers have their own take on things and there is no black and white with subjectivity. It is out of your control.

2. As hard as it is, don't take denial personally. Someone at the college just didn't think you were the right fit at the time. Try to trust that they know what's best. As much as you wanted to get into the college, chances are pretty good that the admissions team did you a favor. If they didn't see you as a good fit, you'd probably end up disliking the college had you gotten in. There is a lot of thought about "fit" and student success when making the decision to admit students. Sometimes the shoe just doesn't fit no matter how much we think we love them.

3. You are not a failure. Too many students assume they are a failure by not making it into their top pick college. Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember subjectivity? It is really out of your control. There are so many variables in making the admit decisions that I could write books and books on the topic. You are still the same successful person you were before you got your admit or denial letter. Don't forget that. The sting of a denial will go away.

4. Celebrate the colleges you do get into. Whether it is your first choice or third, any college you get into is something to celebrate. For every college you get into, someone else didn't. Keep that in mind and be humble. It is an incredible accomplishment.

5. There is always a transfer option. I recommend students go to the college they got into, and after a year if they are still not happy, try to transfer. However, if you go to a college with the intent of transferring, you will never give the college a real try. You'll avoid settling in and experiencing the true nature of the college. Most who go this route end up staying at the college they were admitted to. They figured out that the admissions team from the college that denied them did them a favor.

6. Parents: give your students a break. The selection process belongs to them, not you. You've had years to learn how to deal with the rejections life often throws our way. This may be the first major rejection many students experience. Be supportive and find the good in the situation. There is always good.

The bottom line: you are a success regardless of the college you get in to. Don't let a college admittance letter take that away.

So, stop biting your nails and worrying about your life crashing down if you don't get into your first pick college. Whatever your future holds will unfold as it is supposed to. Trust me, I was one of those students who didn't get into their first pick college. I did OK and so will you.