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The Truth About College Rejection Letters

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The Truth About College Rejection Letters

Those awful college rejections – a student’s worst nightmare. And yet, are they truly that awful? Is there any way to spin them into a positive? Parents and students have dealt with all types of rejection throughout the school years; but there is none greater than the disappointment of losing your dream of attending your dream college because you are rejected. The truth is, rejection letters aren’t what they seem to be; even though it may feel like it at the time,

In the grand scheme of things, do those rejections matter much at all?

Sometimes when faced with disappointment, it helps to look at the bigger picture. Here are two very wise viewpoints from two successful professional college counselors:

Mark Moody, co-Director of college counseling at Colorado Academy, reminds his students of the following:

Now, and in your life to come, resist the urge to let membership in or exclusion from any institution define you or impact your self-image in either positive or negative ways. The most interesting, truly accomplished and innovative people are not defined by others’ stories about them. They remain open to their own potential; importantly, they don’t take anyone else’s opinion, or themselves, too seriously. Try to be like that. Let your way of being in the world, your actions, your accountability, and your relationships be the things that meaningfully describe you, and which shape your possibilities for the future.

Paul Hemphill, the author of "Planning for College" and a counselor who believes in marketing his students to the colleges, puts it into perspective:

Follow your dream and ignore the noise of a culture focused on shallow and empty distractions. And accept the hard-bitten reality (it’ll take time) that, in the end, no one really cares about your losses or wins except those who love and cherish you for who you are and what you have already achieved. What’s the take-away here? All through your life of achievement, which is a winning habit you have already started with the success you’ve had in high school, no one – NO ONE – will ask, “Where did you go to college?”

Do rejections represent a life of success or failure?

In 1968 in the Saturday Evening Post, author Joan Didion published an essay on being denied admission at Stanford University. It is a timeless commentary on dealing with rejection and the complex feelings stirred by that bitter pill many applicants face at some point in the application process. In it, she addresses the reality of college admissions:

They [students] talk casually and unattractively of their “first, second and third choices,” of how their “first-choice” application (to Stephens, say) does not actually reflect their first choice (their first choice was Smith, but their adviser said their chances were low, so why “waste” the application?); they are calculating about the expectation of rejections, about their “backup” possibilities, about getting the right sport and the right extracurricular activities to “balance” the application, about juggling confirmations when their third choice accepts before their first choices answers.

And of course none of it matters very much at all, none of these early successes, early failures. I wonder if we had better not find some way to let our children know this, some way to extricate our expectations from theirs, some way to let them work through their own rejections and sullen rebellions, unassisted by anxious prompting from the wings. Finding one’s role at 17 is problem enough, without being handed somebody else’s script.

Do rejections play a part in shaping your future?

Stop stressing about college rejections. In the bigger picture, which school you attend has less to do with success than you might think. If you want to have a positive college experience, worry less about what college you get into or don’t get into and more about doing your best at the college that values your contribution. Whatever college accepts you, see it as a treasure trove of people and ideas that will lead you to a great life; the sky’s the limit.

Additionally, sometimes those roads less traveled make all the difference. You never know in the grand scheme of things if a smaller, less prestigious college could be the perfect place for you. Considering only 27 percent of students who enroll in college graduate, all the stressing in the world isn’t going to guarantee success. You can get a good, if not better, education from some of the less known or less popular colleges. It’s not about which college you attend, but more about the fact that you do attend college and you commit to making the most of the opportunity.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.

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