The Ivy League schools hold a unique place in American society – perhaps no other institutions of higher learning in the world have been subject to the same amount of reverence and idolatry. A pivotal moment in many high-achieving students’ lives is the one day in March – colloquially referred to as Ivy Day – on which all the Ivy League schools release their Regular Decision admissions decisions at 5 PM, EST.

Ivy Day is a day of mixed emotions for many students, largely depending on the first words in the letters from their dream school: “Congratulations!” leads to elation, excitement, and celebration, while “I’m sorry to inform you” can be absolutely devastating. With the stakes as high as they are, emotions run high and are polarized and intense. In this blog post, we at Admissions Hero, a team founded by students who were once in your shoes, set out to share our personal advice on how to deal with Ivy Day.

If You’re Accepted

Gaining acceptance to an Ivy League school in many ways represents the culmination of an ambitious student’s HS academic career. It’s a moment that’s been depicted in countless televisions shows and books, always as one of triumph and ecstasy.

What you usually don’t see is what happens after you get the news. While being accepted to your dream school is an incredible moment that merits celebration, there are certain challenges unique to students who have been accepted by Ivy Leagues. Stories of students feeling alienated from their friends, especially friends with dashed Ivy League aspirations, are often swapped on admitted students Facebook pages. To have friends you’ve known for years give you the cold shoulder following what is likely one of your greatest accomplishments can be an extremely painful experience. Many students even feel uncomfortable wearing merchandise from their college out of fear they’ll be perceived as elitist or arrogant. To be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed for your acceptance is an unfair, but all too common experience.

In this way, the prestige that accompanies the Ivy League names can sometimes feel like more of a curse than a blessing. Especially for students who are the first or among the very few at their high school to gain acceptance to an elite school, the pressure to accept offers of admittance is enormous; students who choose to attend a school other than the big-name Ivy (or Ivies) they were admitted to are criticized for “wasting their admission”, etc.

Parents and counselors can also contribute greatly to this pressure, painting Ivies as the only option for students who have been admitted. You may feel as though you’re being prevented from exploring your other options because you feel obligated to attend the top college you’ve been accepted to. Many students end up attending colleges that may not be the right fit for them because of pressure from outside parties. It’s crucial to remember that ultimately, your college choice is one that should be made by you, and you alone.

One of the most difficult things under-represented minority admits to top colleges experience is being told “you only got in because you’re black/hispanic/native/etc.”. Other students who don’t fit the typical conception of what an Ivy League admit should look like – for example, those who didn’t take a full schedule of APs or complete an internship every summer – also sometimes face unwelcome commentary from others who claim they’re not up to par. This sort of dialogue is unfortunately prevalent, and can lead students to doubt their own merit and competency. Remember, you were admitted because your college of choice believes you would make an invaluable asset to their institution; identifying as part of an under-represented minority group is not a free pass to the most selective schools in the nation. Though some may try to attribute your success to the color of your skin, the religion you practice, the place you come from, or the income bracket you belong to, you should never allow anyone to undermine your ability or your accomplishments.

While the above situations by no means affect everyone, we feel it’s nevertheless important to address some of these lesser-known consequences of gaining admission to an Ivy League. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you’re allowed to feel proud of your acceptance; while others may cause you to feel undeserving or uncomfortable, at the end of the day, your acceptance reflects hard work, talent, and determination that have paid off. No one should be made to feel ashamed of that.

If You’re Denied or Waitlisted

Because the application process, especially for top schools with holistic admissions, is so personal and rigorous, rejection of an application can often feel like rejection of the applicant themselves.

It’s easy to acknowledge the futility of allowing of self-esteem to be dictated by college decisions – countless adages exist addressing the impersonal, subjective, and inscrutable way admissions decisions at top schools are made – but harder to accept this truth rationally when you feel as though four (or more) years of work has been for naught. Objective evaluation in general is difficult when the rejection at hand feels so deeply personal.

It’s vital to remember that even though reassurances that your college decisions don’t define who you are as a person can seem hollow and consolatory, especially in the moment, they are in fact true. It’s common knowledge that top schools could fill their classes several times over with qualified students, and at the end of the day, those who are admitted were admitted based upon the subjective choices of other human beings. Furthermore, the people making these decisions have no knowledge of who you are beyond what you’ve presented in your application; their decision does not reflect the person you are to your friends, family, and those who know and care about you.

The phrase “everything happens for a reason” gets thrown around pretty often during college decision season; while we don’t necessarily condone this phrase’s use as a catch-all means of consolation, there is some truth to the spirit of it. Nine times out of ten, students who end up attending a school other than their dream school end up having the time of their life. College is all about what you make of the experience, and if you enter ready to grow, learn, and better yourself as a person, you’ll probably be as happy, if not happier than you would be attending what you once considered your dream school.

It’s also important to keep in mind that just because a school is highest ranked in academics or has an immediately recognizable name does not necessarily mean it’s the right place for you to spend the next four years of your life. You may end up discovering interests, passions, and talents you never realized you had because your college results led you in a different direction than you anticipated.

Transferring is also always a possibility. You may not be what a college is looking for as a high school senior, but by the end of your first or second year of college, your experiences and accomplishments may qualify you as exactly what they seek in a candidate. A rejection is not a final, absolute, and categorical condemnation of who you are as a student and a person; it’s a decision that can be appealed, overturned later on, and ultimately taken in whatever way you choose to. Keeping an open mind can open new doors for you that you may have not even realized existed.

Ivy Day and the subsequent months can be a tumultuous time for students, regardless of the results from their top choices. It is our hope that with the above guide, written from the experiences of students who have been both accepted to and rejected from Ivy Leagues, you can traverse this period with confidence and assuredness in who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Anamaria Lopez

Anamaria Lopez

Managing Editor at CollegeVine Blog
Anamaria is an Economics major at Columbia University who's passionate about sharing her knowledge of admissions with students facing the applications process. When she's not writing for the CollegeVine blog, she's studying Russian literature and testing the limits of how much coffee one single person can consume in a day.
Anamaria Lopez