College Decisions: Make It or Break It?

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2010 at 2:17 pm

So, it’s April 1st. I, like many other high-school seniors across the US, spent all day trying to NOT think about my impending 5 pm doom–the time ALL the Ivy League colleges simultaneously post their college decisions online. After three hours of guitar, two showers and two hours on Facebook, I finally caved and checked my results, only to find rejection letters from all the Ivies that I had applied to. So this blog aims to look at how ‘life-changing’ which college you go to really is, from the point of view of someone actually hoping to attend one next year.

Stressing out about college? That was me a year ago.

College decisions this year have been generally more nerve-racking than past years. Especially with the economy, college endowments are plummeting in value, far more rapidly than any others. USA Today reports that endowments fell on average by 18.7 percent last year, forcing colleges to increase the number of students admitted who need minimal financial aid.

So, exactly what DOES go into an admissions decision? Definitely the above mentioned financial aid and circumstances. But here are the other aspects of the decisions that applicants are responsible for:

  1. The SAT/ACT scores: See my previous article on this. Conclusion: “SAT scores, as accurate or inaccurate as they may be, are NOT the end of the world. In fact, according to Glenn Elert, “For 88% of the applicants (though it is impossible to know which ones) an SAT score will predict their grade rank no more accurately than a pair of dice”.
  2. The Grades: Four years of taking AP or IB courses, completing homework assignments, dealing with As and Bs and Cs has led up to this. The colleges want to see, as admissions counselors repeatedly remind us, good grades in challenging courses. As insanely hard as it may sound, getting straight As in the hardest classes IS possible, and several students DO do it, so one must keep in mind that the most competitive colleges expect to see consistently good grades. Once again, this is a consistency thing–you can’t make a miracle appear out of nowhere. Keep up your grades from as early in high school as you can, and it’ll serve you very well in the decision process.
  3. The Interview: Up to an hour in the grueling scrutiny of someone who graduated a few decades ago from the university you are hoping to attend. I had the wonderful pleasure of sitting through eight such interviews, each with almost progressively older alumni from the respective schools. After doing a LOT of research on the schools, individually picking out clothes that match the school colors, and doing my best to look sophisticated and NOT choke on my coffee, they end up telling me that the interview is only a MINOR component of the admissions process. Well, it kinda really IS. Here’s the most simple and most sane list of tips that I found. And here’s the key to it: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t stress over it, don’t obsess over it, don’t try to plan the conversation out to the last microsecond. In retrospect, I should’ve listened to my own advice here.
  4. The Essay(s): Write about something that YOU think is important, not anyone else. It could be an experience, an object, a person… whatever. Here’s a short list of tips for any writers’ block. Keep in mind, you’re not trying to impress the officers, but you’re not trying to make them tear up either. You want to tell them how you see the world. Again, simple, balanced and true should do the work 🙂 If you’re writing multiple essays, try to make them distinctive –don’t use your Common App essay for your Supplements. And if you have any optional writing prompts, WRITE! Any essay is another opportunity to show the school who you are, so make use of every one they throw your way.
  5. Extra-Curriculars: The essence is to find your balance. I was told by one of my RAs at Gov School that colleges don’t want to see you going crazy being a part of 60 million clubs. If at all possible, use your freshman and sophomore years to explore which extra-curriculars interest you, and then focus on two or three BIG ones in your junior and senior year. Officer positions are good, but not mandatory. The admissions officers only want to see that you’ve been dedicated to a few activities that interest you for at least two years. Don’t kill it by joining 30 other honor societies either–do fewer things and do them right. The honor cords in the end are not worth the stress of sitting through every meeting and every service opportunity. Again, BALANCE is the key word, and I learnt this through a rude awakening too.

Rejection is part of life. Think of this as an opportunity.

Now, even though I write all this from application hindsight, keep in mind I did NOT get into the school of my dreams (Yale). If this happens, keep in mind it’s NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. Realistically AND statistically, the odds are already stacked against you: Harvard 7%, Dartmouth 12%, Columbia 9.8% admission rates. I can safely say that you are competing with almost 25,000 students for the same admission decision. So even if you may have done YOUR best, it may not be the same as a child prodigy that Harvard REALLY wants walking its halls. Keep in mind, you can only do so much to try to get into an Ivy League. Once again, keep your grades up, be involved and committed, and the Ivy acceptances will (hopefully) find their way to you!

Here are a few links to help you out with the college search (this could be for ANY college you plan on applying to)

In closing and as an example of empowerment, here’s the letter I wrote to vent at my rejection from Yale University. It’s an adaptation of the exact rejection letter Yale sent me at 5 pm, on April 1, 2010. Read it, laugh, and remember, Ivy is NOT everything.

Dear Yale,

I have completed my evaluation of this year’s colleges, and I am genuinely sorry to inform you that I am not able to attend your school as a part of the Class of 2014.

I realize that this decision may come as a real disappointment. I also hope you will understand that the decision reflects only the extraordinary range of in-state college decisions that I received, not a judgment about your own facilities or career options. Of the nearly twenty-six thousand individuals who applied to Yale, you have missed out on one of the few who is most fully capable of doing outstanding work and making a unique contribution to a campus community. It is painful to me that I must turn away such a prestigious and challenging university.

You may be tempted to ask what was lacking in your institution. In truth, it is usually difficult for me to point to obvious weaknesses when so many universities have demonstrated real academic rigor and promise for the future. My decision says far more about the college that I can afford and the difficult choices I must make about my education, than it does your ability to provide me with exigent courses and a conducive campus atmosphere.

While regretting that I was not able to respond positively to your disinterest in me, I want to wish you every success in your educational and financial pursuits. Experience suggests that regardless of your decision, I have been welcomed by other outstanding colleges. I extend my best wishes for the coming year.

  1. Great post, except I don’t think you quite finished the paragraph about grades. The concluding sentence ends mid-sentence.

  2. Aww.
    Let’s hope there will be juniors who read this 😀

    Glad to see a new post!


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