Throughout the months of March and April, students across the country are repeatedly clicking “refresh” on college admissions websites, anxiously awaiting the outcome of three and a half years of hard work in high school.
While most will be preoccupied with whether or not they’ll get into their dream school, many will be shocked to receive something completely unexpected: a rejection from a safety school — a school assumed to be easy to get into.
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If you’ve been rejected by a safety school, you may be feeling completely devastated and wondering how this could possibly have happened. Here are three reasons that might help explain what may have gone wrong:
1.Underestimating the competition: While grades and test scores aren’t everything, they make up two of the most important parts of your application. Your stats should be at least better than the top 25% of the previously admitted class before considering a school to be a safety. Many aren’t aware that a lot of helpful data about the previously accepted class at colleges across the country is publicly available.
2. Not demonstrating interest: “Demonstrated interest” is the degree in which a student shows their intention of enrolling in a particular school. While not all colleges take this into account, some colleges take this into major consideration. Sending an application isn’t enough to demonstrate interest. Actions that count as demonstrating interest include attending an official college tour, attending a college presentation at your high school, or meeting with an admissions officer. For colleges that track this, these activities get logged in and are taken into consideration in the decision making process.
3. Financial reasons: If you applied to a school that is need aware, meaning the ability to pay for college is taken into account in admissions decisions, and you are in need of substantial financial assistance to pay for college, this may be a reason why you were rejected. Financial aid is allocated to the most competitive students first, so if a student is in need of financial aid, but is not amongst the most competitive applicants, it may lead to a rejection.
4. Not paying attention to admission rates: Schools with admission rates under 15% should never be considered to be safety schools. While it may seem counterintuitive, the volume of applications that might be submitted to a safety school can make it even more competitive to get an offer.
5. Not tailoring your application essay to the school: Students sometimes take the shortcut of copying and pasting one application essay into another application without customizing the essay. It’s easy to assume that if you put your best effort into producing a solid essay for one of your reach school applications, it would be good enough for your safety school application. This isn’t the case. All schools are looking for students who would be a good fit and if your essay is too generic, you may sound like any other applicant.
Right now, the question probably racing through your mind is: “If I didn’t get into my safety school, does that mean I’m not getting in anywhere I applied?”
There’s no way to predict with 100% certainty whether or not you will get into a certain college, especially if it is a competitive one. However, if you’re worried about not getting in anywhere, here are some actions you can take:
- Send an appeal. If you’ve achieved something highly noteworthy since you submitted your application such as winning a major award, inventing something, or starting a new program at school, it may be worth a shot to send an appeal. Appeals are rarely successful, but worth a try if you are 100% convinced that your new accomplishments are pretty remarkable. Contact the admissions office to learn more about their appeal process and make sure to follow up quickly.
- Apply to more colleges: If you miscalibrated your likelihood of getting into the schools you applied to, look for other colleges that offer rolling admissions or later application deadlines and submit a few more applications. Here’s a list of schools still accepting applications.
- Consider going to community college: An option that is becoming more and more attractive to students is taking general education credits at a community college and transferring to a four year university during their junior year. Not only will this give you another chance of graduating with a degree from a school you want to go to, it’ll save you a ton of money. And, your diploma will have no indication on it that you attended a community college.
- Consider a gap year: If you’re not interested in going down the community college route and find yourself with no college offers, a gap year might be an attractive option. While this is not a highly common approach, more and more students are exploring it. A gap year full of meaningful experiences can inform what you write in application essays the following year when you apply again.
- Don’t lose hope: Sometimes students get accepted into schools that seem more competitive yet get rejected by schools that would be classified as a “safety school.”
Awaiting college application decisions is an emotional roller coaster. While it can feel deflating to receive a rejection, don’t panic. Give yourself some time to recover (talk it out with your family, go out for a jog, listen to your favorite music playlist — whatever it takes to clear your head), and then start considering the alternatives.
As you await decisions from other schools you applied to, start to consider a back up plan just in case. You still have many options to get a great education and pursue your dreams.
by Mary Grace Gardner, a college admissions and career coach. Using what she’s learned from getting into schools like Yale, Johns Hopkins and UCLA, reviewing applications as part of the UC Berkeley admissions team and graduating from college debt free, she helps students prepare for and get accepted into their dream schools. She’s been featured in places like US News and World Report, CNBC, and Yahoo Finance. Contact her by visiting www.theyoungprofessionista.com.
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