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Answer Sheet
Posted at 12:04 PM ET, 03/14/2011

What to do when a college says ‘no’

My guest is Patrick O’Connor, director of college counseling at Roeper School in Birmingham, Michigan, and the author of “College is Yours in 600 Words or Less.”

By Patrick O’Connor

The real March Madness has already begun, as some of the most selective colleges release their admissions decisions. For parents and school counselors looking for ways to support students who may receive an unexpected rejection, here are some important facts to share:

* Most selective colleges are reporting a huge increase in the number of applications.

* Since this also happened last year, many colleges enrolled too many students last fall. They’ll have to make up for that, so many colleges will be admitting fewer students this year....

* ....and wait-listing more students. This increase means fewer students will be admitted from the wait list come May—and if they are admitted, financial aid will be scarce.

Then again, if none of that does any good, just say this:

* 850.

No, this is not the high score on some new version of the SAT. 850 is the number of valedictorians rejected last year from one of America’s most prestigious colleges. These students represented the best in their high schools; they did everything they were “supposed” to do—and yet, they didn’t even get to the wait list.

When students hear this, they usually think one of two things:

1. “Wow, they put in all of that work for nothing.”

2. “Geez, if they can’t get in, I don’t stand a chance.”

It certainly had to be hard for those students to be turned down by a school they loved—but did all of that preparation really lead to nothing? Given everything these students had learned, the many ways they had grown, and how they overcame adversity and embraced creativity in making Plans B, C, and Q, did they really get nothing out of it?

If so, they have every right to be unhappy, but not with the college. They should be unhappy for letting the sun rise and set 1307 times from the first day of 9th grade to the day the college said no, never once appreciating all that each of those days had to offer in and of themselves.

They should hang their heads a little to realize, just now, the difference they’ve made to their classmates, their teammates, and the people they served in the soup kitchen.

And if they look back with a little regret on the many times they blew off a compliment from a parent or a teacher, that’s more than OK. They now know it was at that moment that the goal of fully living each day was conquered with a flourish. Understanding that will make each day all the richer at the wonderful college that admitted them.

This leads to point 2, about the student you’re talking to, and their application. Colleges are looking for great students who have done wonderful things with their lives, and will work nicely with the other students that are coming to campus. That blend goes beyond test scores and class rank—it goes to who the student is, what they care about, and how they see the world.

The thing to focus on then is not who told them no, but who told them yes. If a college wants them but runs out of room, that’s the college’s fault; if the college doesn’t see the student for who they really are, well, maybe that’s not the place for them after all. Either way, the student’s contributions will be greatly admired, and badly needed, by the college that has the good sense to tell them yes—which means any no, from any college, simply cannot touch them.

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By  |  12:04 PM ET, 03/14/2011

 
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