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Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (or Third, or Fourth) School
Now that the college admissions cycle is winding down for the year and those of you who are high school seniors have committed to a school, all that’s left to do is begin picturing the new life you’ll start in just a few short months on your chosen campus.
We’re usually busy giving you advice on how to navigate the complex project that is the college admissions process. Now, we’d like to take a moment to slow down and talk about some of the more disappointing or disheartening moments. In particular, we’d like to share a few words of comfort and advice to the students who are preparing to go to a school that they didn’t plan to attend.
Whether you’ve committed to a school that was your second- or fifth-favorite, it can be nerve-wracking, upsetting, or simply a little discomfiting to prepare for college when you imagined yourself elsewhere. But this need not be the case.
Know You’re Not Alone
First of all, it’s important to put your experience in perspective. Think about the millions of students in America who applied to college in the past year—filled out the Common App, sat for the SAT or ACT, wrote a personal statement—and have committed to a school just like you. Each one of them likely identified a dream school last September, and only a fraction of these students plan to attend it next fall. Surely, you are not the only student whose ideal college plan did not pan out.
Second, your nerves are normal and largely universal. Moving to college is a huge step, and it comes with varying stresses for everyone—even the students who seem from afar to be composed and at ease with their college decision.
If You’ve Been Waitlisted
Remember that there are many reasons why students don’t end up going to the school they thought they’d attend. If you’re on the waitlist, your potential acceptance is completely at the mercy of students who have been offered admission. Some will decline their offer because their priorities, desires, or needs have changed, but these numerous factors are obviously out of your control.
We’d be remiss not to tell you that there are steps you can take to develop a waitlist strategy and possibly gain admission to the school that has neither accepted or denied you. That said, there is never a guarantee that you’ll make it off of the waitlist, and many students often decide that playing the waiting game is not worth the time, energy, or stress that it causes, and choose to accept offers of admission before hearing back from the schools that have waitlisted them. Ultimately, this decision can be remarkably empowering and reassure you that you’re the one in control of where you choose to attend.
If You’ve Been Rejected
Though a rejection is disheartening, it’s important to remember that schools accept and reject students for a myriad of reasons, only one of which is the level of a student’s qualifications. The unpleasant truth is that college admissions isn’t all fair and square—not everyone who is qualified to be accepted somewhere will be offered a spot. Yale, for example, believes that three-quarters of their applicants are qualified to handle the workload; meanwhile, their acceptance rate for the 2015-16 admissions cycle was 6.27%. Indeed, universities all over the country turn down hundreds, sometimes thousands, of qualified applicants, simply because more students apply than the school has beds in its freshman dorms.
Instead of worrying about what you could have done better to be accepted at your first-choice school, remind yourself that college admission isn’t simply awarded to the student with the highest test scores and most numerous extracurricular activities. The decision-making process is more complicated than that.
Active Steps to Prepare (and Get Excited!)
The most crucial step you can take in the next few months is to make an active effort to get excited about college in general. It’s easy to forget that some of the most exciting aspects of college life are universal across all schools. Get excited to meet hundreds—maybe thousands—of new people: interesting peers, potential best-friends, possible boyfriends or girlfriends, future business partners, and intelligent classmates. At every college in the country, you’ll have the opportunity to take huge lectures or small seminars, study courses your high school didn’t offer, live away from home, and—most importantly—figure out who you are in the process. So remember, at every college, there are friends to meet, coffee dates to be had, parties to attend, degrees to pursue, and life to be lived.
And if our mushy, gushy, feel-good pep talk isn’t working for you, let’s talk about some action steps you can take to ensure that your experience at the college you’ve chosen will be just like the dream experience you envisioned for yourself, even if you imagined that happening elsewhere.
First, think about what it was about your “first-choice” school that you loved. Was it a particular major or set of classes? A professor you admired? A thriving arts community? A publication you wanted to write for, read, or become involved with in some other way? Whatever the case, make it your goal to find a similar outlet or comparable activity at the school you plan to attend.
If you wanted to pursue a major or participate in a program that was unique to another school, you have your work cut out for you; see what you can do to pursue the same course of study at your chosen college. Maybe this means doing a double major, independent study, or cross registering for classes at nearby universities. The good news here is that, if you’re passionate about your studies, this work won’t feel too burdensome.
If you were looking to write for a publication or join a club, research similar opportunities on your new campus. If functional equivalents don’t exist, then you’ve stumbled upon a fantastic opportunity to found a new organization on campus!
The Good News
In the context of your college list, hopefully the decision to choose one school over another is not completely harrowing. The reason why we so fervently believe that you should craft your college list with care—and pay attention to the vibe on the campuses you visit—is that we want you to be armed with as many attractive and exciting options as possible. This way, even if you do not plan to attend your first-choice school, you can still be excited about the prospect of moving to college in the fall.
A Healthy Dose of Perspective
Life is a game of chance. The school that you thought would be best for you might not actually have been.
That said, you should begin your freshman year with an open mind, determined to find your niche and make an (unexpected) home for yourself in this new place. If you’re willing, believe that everything—even the undesirable—happens for a reason. If you’re looking for more pragmatic words of comfort, know that, beyond your first-choice school, there is certainly more than one college that can give you what you need.