The Decision Season Panic

As admissions decisions continue to roll in, some students are celebrating while others are unfortunately beginning to panic. What has become clear so far this year is that most if not all 'upper level' schools are increasingly difficult to get into and the number of early applications has once again jumped. The unpredictability of it all has become more evident than ever. Highly qualified students are shocked to find out they did not get into their colleges and are beginning to worry that they will not get in to any that they want. While it is perfectly normal and reasonable for the students to be concerned about not getting into their favorite schools, there is a lot which can be done to get these students into a more stable situation during this confusing college application season.

  1. Make a BALANCED List They LOVE - an idea that is by no means revolutionary, but still not entirely understood. Students continue to make very top heavy college lists. Even worse, they are putting back up schools on their list which they would not be happy with. It is worth the time and effort to do the research early on and establish a list which is balanced and which does not include schools the student merely added to have a safety. They need to understand that nothing is a guarantee and a safety school should still be one they would be happy to attend. As with any of the schools on their list, it would be even better if the student has had the opportunity to visit their safety schools and know what they are like before including them on their list. The last thing anyone wants is to end up only getting in to the 'mystery' school they added in a moment of panic. If students make a balanced list they love, they will be able to get through application season with less anxiety over the possibility of not getting in anywhere or only getting into a school they are not even interested in attending.

  2. Understand the Options – students need to have a clear understanding of the application options and what they can do with the decisions they receive. This plan should be established before application season, not after the decisions are already coming in. Students should be aware of the true meaning of applying ED and EA and have a plan set in place for the possible denial from those schools. (Check out my previous post for tips on what to do with the decisions for how to handle deferrals and waitlists.)

  3. Stop the Comparison – as mentioned, the unpredictability of college admissions is more evident than ever. The stories of highly qualified students getting turned down while their counterparts get accepted are countless. Students with nearly identical credentials are getting very different responses. Although easier said than done, students, their parents and counselors need to stop the comparison and big name game. One's college acceptance is not a determination of their future success or in many instances, an accurate assessment of the work they have done thus far. There are so many factors which have to do with enrollment quotas, diversity, distribution of financial aid, and massive increases in the various application pools that make the admissions system much more complicated and difficult to predict or even understand. Being a top student is no longer an automatic in and there are so many great schools which may not be well known, but nevertheless provide top notch education. Students need to understand that they can forge their own paths to success at any college they choose, and not getting into a top school does not make them any less of a person.

While not getting into a top choice school may be a shock and of course a disappointment to any student, we can all play a part in reducing the stress, anxiety and panic surrounding college applications and decisions. We have to assume the admissions counselors are making the best decisions they can with the time, demands and resources they have. We can not begin to try to understand the reasoning behind each decision they make and need to prepare our students for any response they may receive.