Early admissions didn’t go your way and you’re wondering what to do now?
Look, I know many of you are feeling stressed about decisions this week. I get it — it’s a crazy tough time — especially if you weren’t offered admission. But know this: It’s their loss. You are gonna be sad for a day or two, and then you’re gonna get your shit together and move forward.
Time to Keep Zigging
If things didn’t go the way you want, trust me when I say that it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It doesn’t change who you are or who you’re becoming or the amazing trajectory of your lives.
It just means you’re gonna zig instead of zag. And zigging is really fucking awesome. When you zig you learn from the unexpected. Sure. It all hurts. It sucks so much, like really really bad for some of you, and it’s ok to feel all that, but then you’re gonna get back to your zig. You got this.
Dealing with Feelings
When decisions don’t go your way it can feel pretty shitty, but it’s ok to feel the pain. In fact, the only way to get past the pain is to allow it. In my family, we call it Going on a Bear Hunt. I don’t know if you know the children’s chant, but it’s about getting thrown the tall swishy swashy grass and the thick oozy gooey mud and the fast rushing river. To me, those are metaphors for the emotions we have to pass through as we make our way through anger, sadness, and disappointment. My therapist used to call it making it through the train tunnel. You’ve got to let yourself feel those emotions or you get stuck and you need to make your way out. In mindfulness, we use a technique called RAIN.
Recognize your feelings.
Accept and acknowledge that they are there.
Investigate them — what caused them, why are you feeling them
Non—identify; know that they are just feelings and feelings come and go.
You are the observer of your feelings, but you’re not your feelings. Think of it like this: You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather. Those feelings – as horrible as they are – are like really bad weather. They will come and go. They are not you.
This is all to say, you’re gonna be ok. Allow yourself to be sad or angry. Sometimes schools make really stupid fucked up decisions and it’s not a reflection on you, but that doesn’t make it easier to swallow right in the beginning. So be sad or angry. Smash some pillows, angry cry. Go through those feelings and then go find ice cream.
Ice cream helps
Seniors come back and tell me this every year: After they’ve cried, pounded their pillows, licked their wounds, and eaten ice cream — and I mean there’s a lot of ice cream eating going on during college-admission-decision time — a few months later, they come back and talk about how even though it was the most stressful experience of their short lives, they are proud of how much they learned about themselves and how much stronger they feel now. This is the good kind of stress — where you grow and learn.
Now, in case you think I’m trying to turn the admissions experience into some happy-ending forest-like fairytale — I’m not. In fact, I think there’s a lot wrong with it. I believe the non-stop college talk in schools and homes is downright dangerous for some kids — and the constant college admissions chatter causes unnecessary stress in many others.
Forget about Dream Schools
Instead of spending so much time focusing on one school — a “dream school,” I encourage you to find your “Dream You” — not your Dream U. To me, it’s not about finding the school of your dreams; it’s about finding the you of your dreams. When you’re drooling over that perfect school with a perfect campus and perfect classes, you’re not dreaming about any one school. You’re dreaming about who you want to be and where you can become who you want to be, and there isn’t only one school where you can do that. So, I invite you to think deeply — and figure out what it is about that certain school that makes you consider it your dream school — because, I guarantee that your dream isn’t out there in the form of a college; it is in YOU.
You can only control your own actions
Probably the most relevant lesson to the college admissions journey is the understanding that we can only control our own actions — and it’s fruitless to spend our time and energy trying to control anything else. And what you can control in college admissions is what goes in the application — essays, activity descriptions, and grades and test scores to a limited extent. What you cannot control is the number of other well-qualified amazing students who might be applying to the same tiny teacup of schools as you are; you cannot control the bulk of your transcript by the time you’re a senior; you cannot control the institutional needs of the colleges on your list; you cannot control the mood, preferences, or predilections of the application readers. You cannot, in essence, control what colleges want at the particular reading of your application on a particular day, and as an admissions officer from U Chicago once told me, “just when you think you’ve figured out, what we want, we’ve changed our mind.” The only thing you can control is becoming who you are and then putting together the best application that reflects the best of who you are.
Institutional Needs? What does that mean?
Institutional needs means that colleges have to create a class, so they’re looking to accept all kinds of people with varying strengths, abilities, talents, and backgrounds. They don’t want to have a uniform set of people who are all robotically doing the same stuff. That’s why it’s important to have holistic admissions and not just base it on stats. Also, they have a school to run so certain departments and faculty might have more needs at different times. Or sometimes it’s just whatever their board members and presidents tell them they should keep in mind as they create a class. This is the part of college admissions that we have no control over and why applicants need to not take any of it personally. Institutional needs change year to year so you can’t prep and plan ahead.
Early application submissions are skyrocketing
Every college I’ve read about or seen news about is reporting application rates that sky-rocketed for early admissions. I love love love that the test-optional aspect and that colleges were forced to move all their outreach online created much greater college access for students who would’ve normally felt that they couldn’t apply because of scores or they couldn’t learn about colleges because they couldn’t attend a campus event. That’s all amazing and fabulous and every superlative I can think of. My concern is that with the push for earlier and earlier admissions there are many students who don’t even have college on their radar at the beginning of their senior year or who can’t use early decision options because of their financial needs. It will be interesting to watch this early trend in the years that come.
Remember to Breathe
When I’m feeling overwhelmed by sadness and frustration, I try to remind myself to stop and breathe and say these words:
I am who I am
This is what it is
May I accept things as they are
May I trust in the unfolding
It’s so simple to breathe, yet when we are full-on in the anger and sadness and worry feels it can be crazy difficult to remember. And these words can help you with the reality that there is only so much you can control. Right now, what you can control is how you process this time in your life and next steps.
Now, here’s what I love most about college admissions
It can actually be this period of amazing self-growth and development — like no other if you allow yourself to recognize that some amount of stress is necessary and good for your development, and if we acknowledge that there might be ways to reframe our understanding of college admissions by changing the words and phrases we use. When you take control of your admissions journey and you incorporate some mindfulness into your lives, you can grow in self-confidence and maturity as you dig in and learn more about yourself than you ever have. Figuring out what you want in a college, developing a list, and writing personal essays all require deep reflection and self-investigation. Taking the reins and handling the details and difficulties of the application process demonstrates your abilities and strengths. And, no matter the outcome, no matter where you end up going to college, no matter how painful some of this journey might be, this transformational experience, filled not only with stress but also with excitement and joy — is turning you into a stronger human, ready to take on college — and life.
One last note
It can really hurt when life doesn’t go your way and sometimes you just have to give in to the pain — that’s the only way through it. So slam doors, eat ice cream, bash pillows, cry — it’s all ok. I truly believe it’s their loss and yes, I can say that without knowing you because every single one of you has something to offer and bring to a campus. You’re gonna be sad for a day or two, and then you’re gonna get your shit together and “thank-you-next” them so that you can recognize that this one door shutting? It’s really an infinite number of doors opening. This is your chance. This is your time to learn how strong you are and learn more about colleges and what you want for yourself. This isn’t an ending. It’s a beginning.
Tl;dr: You are a badass. You don’t need them. You have you.