Seeing the College Admissions Glass as Half-Full

The happiest students in this process are willing to attend several colleges on their lists; they realize that these colleges will offer them extraordinary programming, including merit scholarships.
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This week, two high school seniors I know got accepted to the same competitive college. One cried for joy as it is one of her top college options. The other cried in frustration, believing that if this school had accepted her why hadn't the others she wanted to go to more.

Late March is the time of year when the majority of four-year colleges accept their freshman classes, leading to throngs of rejections. This year many colleges received more applications than ever as applicants applied to more and more colleges, and some schools reduced the sizes of their freshman classes. Awaiting college acceptance decisions is always dramatic as seniors and their families begin to see the next four years fall into place. Sadly, many seniors have aimed very high, and receiving rejections prompts them to see the admissions glass as half-empty.

The happiest students in this process are willing to attend several colleges on their lists; they realize that these colleges will offer them extraordinary programming, including merit scholarships. Here are five tips to help high school seniors and their adult allies see April as the time to make their college admissions glasses more than half-full.

1. Be positive and supportive at all costs. Adults and students, of course, need to mourn college rejections. But adults have to put their disappointment aside and help their seniors make proactive college plans by May 1, the national student intent to register deadline. We need to start by selling the colleges that accepted them.

2. Visit the colleges that accepted them. April is the month that colleges roll out the red carpet for admitted students on and off their campuses. They often provide free travel for students who can't afford to visit on their own. Please try to visit campuses for one to two days each. Seniors can spend the night in dorms with current students, attend classes, meet with professors, coaches, and other campus officials, and participate in other campus events. Through these visits, seniors can create three dimensional college pictures for themselves.

3. Talk with current and former students of accepted colleges. If students can't visit in person, there are other options. Alumni organizations offer accepted local events for admitted students and their families. There are also current students and recent grads in your area that will meet or speak with your students. Students need to learn about the extraordinary resources at the colleges that accepted them from those who know best.

4. Move quickly through waitlists and/or appeals. If students are still determined to attend a college that rejected or waitlisted them (usually a longer road to rejection), help them. We don't want them to have any regrets. Students need to feel they have tried, but then they must move on, as they have to find happiness with a college that has accepted them. These colleges are often much better matches than the schools that waitlisted or rejected them. We need to help students focus on positive futures.

5. Explain the transfer process. If the seniors cannot see themselves at any of the colleges that accepted them, explain the transfer process. The seniors must understand that they can transfer at different times. They can start at a local community college or at one of the colleges that accepted them. Colleges want happy, successful transfer applicants. Seniors need to end senior years strong, do productive activities this summer, and take freshman classes that transfer easily. Some times just helping them understand this process will help seniors find ultimate happiness at one of the colleges that accepted them.

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