I’m a teacher, and I’ve been helping students through the college process for many years. When students choose to apply to the most selective colleges, I warn them that they need to have thick skin and a plan for how they’re going to handle college rejection, because the rejection rate is high.
I also tell them that schools reject paper, not flesh – colleges say “no” to applications, not to them as people. Sometimes when students are rejected from schools, I am tempted to call the school and tell them exactly why they’re wrong, but I know I can’t.
I have former students attending a wide spectrum of colleges — from our local community college to our flagship state school, our partners through QuestBridge, a nonprofit based that connects low-income and first-gen students with partner colleges and universities, and even Harvard University.
I have also been there to watch students head off to boot camp or navigate jobs right out of high school. I love them all and do my best to celebrate each achievement because there is no single path to success and happiness in life!
My Own Children and Their College Choices
I have three children, and their paths have been so different:
My Son: He went to our nearby high school. A good student, he kept out of trouble. He applied to five colleges and got into the three he really liked. He is what most people would consider a late bloomer. Watching him grow and change has been wonderful. He took a little longer than others, but the progress is clear.
My Daughter: She’s always been independent. Smart in class and always standing up for others. She wanted a different high school experience, she lived on the small boarding school campus where I taught during her elementary school years thanks to incredible financial aid. There, she got very involved and even graduated as the valedictorian in 2021. I was on the sidelines for her college process — again, she is very independent.
The Reality of College Rejections
I am a teacher, and my husband is the vendor receiver at a local grocery store, so financial aid was a huge consideration, but my daughter was not interested in attending any of the schools that automatically award merit. Instead, she focused her search on the small liberal arts schools that meet financial needs.
She didn’t get into many colleges and landed on a lot of waitlists. In the end, she had two great offers. But not wanting to miss two weeks of school to visit the one she was most interested in, and then quarantine during the pandemic, she chose to attend without visiting.
While she enjoyed being out west, the school she chose was not the right fit for her. She wasn’t homesick; she was simply uninspired, disengaged, and disillusioned.
She tried to make it work, but when she called and told my husband that she had loved school every day of her life but now hated everything about the college, we knew she needed to withdraw. She handled the entire process, including her flight home.
She became angry and depressed. She was embarrassed to tell her friends and her teachers. I felt like I had failed her. I have rarely had a student have this type of experience.
Why didn’t I help my daughter more?
Since she had no credits, she was able to apply to most colleges as a first-year applicant simply disclosing that she had enrolled at another school. She visited more schools and became excited about the process. She took my advice and cast a bit wider net but was again most excited by some very selective liberal arts schools.
Waitlists and Uncertainty, Take Two
In January, she began working as an Instructional Assistant in the county where I teach. She works with third graders with autism and has found incredible joy in this work. Her spark has returned. I don’t think she will choose to work directly in education, but child advocacy may be something she explores.
As college decisions roll in, she is once again being waitlisted and figuring out how to handle college rejection. Some have left us quite surprised because she has stats at the upper end of the published data. Luckily, she has a great offer from one school and is finding more and more reasons to be excited about this opportunity.
As her mom, I am hurt every time she lands on a waitlist. She is a person whom I both love and admire! She challenges me and everyone around her to do better. She shouldn’t be forced to learn how to handle college rejection but I must remind myself that to the admissions team she is simply an application.
She made the hardest decision of her life when she withdrew from college. It was not a frivolous decision. It was a tortured, soul-searching decision. Could this be a red X on her application? Absolutely. We will never know how it was viewed.
What We’ve Learned
My daughter is still waiting to hear from more colleges. She is convinced she will end up waitlisted everywhere. Is this an incredibly personal, painful process? It can be. Does it make sense? Not always. Does it mean my child did anything wrong? Absolutely not!!
As decisions come in, please remember that for every student admitted, 90 to 95 amazing humans were not. These students have teachers who would like to make impassioned phone calls explaining just how wrong the decision was. They have friends who admire them and loved ones who are struggling to understand what they could have done differently.
The value of a human is not measured by the decisions of admissions officers. It’s important that we know that — and that our kids do, too.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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