Denied: A Cautionary Tale of College Applications Gone Awry

Denied-ACautionaryThis is the time of year when I begin to hear from parents of students who’ve been denied admission to the college of their choice. These are tough conversations. Parents are doing a lot of second-guessing, wondering if things would have been different if they’d hired me or someone else to help them with the college application process. The students are disappointed, some of them are devastated. I have no magic in these conversations, no ability to compel schools to admit. (If only!)

What I do have is clarity. I have knowledge, about whether an appeal of the decision is appropriate and how to submit one if it is. I have data, about who was admitted and why the profile from last year’s admitted students doesn’t match this year’s. I have compassion, to support families during a difficult time and give them the direction they need to make a new plan.

What’s a new plan? A new plan might be researching schools that are similar to the “dream school” and helping the student complete those applications quickly. There are over 7,000 (that’s right, SEVEN THOUSAND) higher education institutions in the United States. Every single one of them has at least one doppelganger. Most of them have several. These “twin schools” are probably not in the same state, and may not even be in the same part of the country, but they exist and can offer a student who falls in love with a specific type of school the opportunity to still have that same undergraduate experience, somewhere else. A new plan might be determining that the the best option is to reapply as a transfer student to the “dream school”. A new plan might mean going to a state school or a local community college prior to transferring. Sometimes a new plan means choosing to take a gap year, to work or volunteer or study abroad. 

As an objective party, I can offer advice at a time when a family may be struggling with communication difficulties and a student may be suffering from a tremendous blow to his self esteem.

Recently I had a call from a mother because her son had not been admitted to his first choice school – the only school to which he’d applied, Early Action. She asked me outright if I thought he would’ve been admitted if they’d been working with me. I said that I couldn’t tell her without more information, but it was unlikely. Unless he’d done a terrible job of representing himself on his application and with his activities resume and essays, it’s unlikely that simply working with me would have gotten him admitted. But – and this is a significant – her son would not have been applying to only one school. I would have found other schools that were a fit for him, other schools that he would have fallen for the way he’d fallen for “the one”. So if he’d been denied admission to that one, there would have been other offers to focus on and get excited about. He wouldn’t be slogging through school now, trying to be happy for his friends while not speaking to his mom and secretly panicking about what he’s going to do next year. Instead, he’d be moving forward with his plans to study engineering and play in the marching band and join the LEGO Robotics Club.

DeniedStampI don’t write any of this to scare you. Very few students will apply to only one school and be denied admission. But it does happen, and similar scenarios happen too – students apply to several schools but don’t actually select some of the schools (instead, picking schools near home or ones recommended by a parent or teacher or friend) so when those schools become the only options, they have no interest in attending. Or students are admitted, but the anticipated financial aid is not awarded, so the school is either no longer an option or at least a much less desirable option. None of these scenarios are good and all of them are avoidable with planning.

So the moral of my cautionary tale is just that – make a plan. Start early, freshman or sophomore year in high school is ideal. Use the resources available at your school, in your community, on my website

Contact me if you have questions or find yourself in a difficult situation with regard to college admission. I’m happy to help!