Over the next several weeks, thousands of high school students will hear back from colleges with one of three results: accepted, waitlisted or rejected. High school seniors and their parents are anxious for the fated emails from universities.
For seniors, it feels like the culmination of hours of self-reflection and rigorous essay writing. For parents, it feels like judgment day on the quality of their parenting. In reality, it is a sometimes haphazard selection process where thousands of over-qualified applicants submit their profiles to more and more schools each year. The first step in overcoming the increasing hype is realizing the truth in this statement.
Admissions offices around the world have been busy with bi-weekly meetings where readers discuss the qualifications of students: measuring them with free form notes, quantitative scales on academic strength and extracurricular strength and personality. If the two or three admissions readers agree on the strength of a student, they are admitted. At top schools, this often means applicants score in the top 20 percent by both readers.
Although undergraduate education offers students a chance to grow intellectually, socially and culturally, it is our choices that really define who we are. On top of that, graduate or professional education offers another opportunity to attend Ivy League colleges or equivalent. Having this perspective, and speaking with college graduates themselves, will help ease the "end all" attitude around undergraduate college admissions.
Third, most students have diversified their mix of schools among reach, target and safety schools. Spreading the risk across more schools is always better than concentrating on a single set (i.e. Ivy League) of schools. At this point, high school seniors can only focus on the present -- grades, school clubs, sports and extracurricular activities. In fact, ask many college students about 2nd semester senior year, and they will reflect fondly on the friendships and memories. High school students should try to cherish these remaining moments and realize all of the effort they have put in academically and socially into so many AP and IB courses.
High school, like college, is a time of intellectual and social growth. Senior year is particularly busy and stressful because of college applications. Applications are the next step to college, but it is not the final destination. In fact, college applications are more of a forced reflection -- a time where admissions officers are asking students to think critically about their past and their choices.
Although it may be tough, understanding this perspective, speaking to college students, and enjoying the end of senior year is the healthiest way to approach these next few weeks. Good luck, and remember that each moment is a gift.