We’re fast approaching the final days of colleges handing out their decisions for Early Decision, Early Action and Restrictive Early Action applications. Some students and their parents are excitedly celebrating an acceptance, while others are confronting the sadness – and sometimes disbelief – that comes with the denial decision. Still others find themselves in an uncomfortable limbo, having been deferred to the regular decision round. For those who find themselves in these latter categories, it can be daunting to digest the news, put it into perspective, pick up and proceed to complete the college admissions process and wait until spring to receive even more decisions.
But this is what must happen.
For most students, choosing a college is the first truly independent decision they make. They work hard in school for many years, prepare for and take strenuous tests, participate in multiple extracurricular activities, write multiple drafts of essays, and then spend countless hours completing and submitting applications. When they are thoughtful, students apply to a mix of colleges that will fit their academic and social needs. They choose the colleges to which to apply, but they do not choose where they are ultimately granted admission. That is the sole prerogative of the colleges and it can sometimes seem quite mysterious.
Though college admission is not necessarily a mystery, it is complex. A student can easily research the academic standards of a particular college (median GPA and ACT/SAT scores) to see if they fall within admissible standards. But after that, things become much less clear. There is something called “institutional priorities”, which means the particular goals a college has for shaping its entering class, and those priorities are not shared with the public. They can include things like needing a particular symphonic instrument for orchestra, or a second base player, more students from the Prairie States, and frequently underrepresented students.
It is important to remember – critical really – that there is never just one perfect school for any student. There are many schools that will turn out to be “perfect” in terms of offering that student an exciting, challenging and fulfilling four years of college. Helping students remember this fact is the job of parents, counselors and teachers who assist them during this process.
Students will remember the colleges that accepted them and those that didn’t. What matters, though, is how they respond to the decisions they receive. That is truly an independent, adult action.