Prep Talk Blog > April 2011

As we learn from reality television and/or the Rolling Stones (depending on your age), you can’t always get what you want.  While you might think that’s a logical start to my promise to follow up on my last post on financial aid, APRIL FOOLS!!  Yes, I am writing this as my first post in April. While April 1st is known to everyday folk as April Fool’s Day, it’s better known to high school seniors and college admissions officers as DECISION DAY, the day when many of the most competitive institutions release their decisions.

Since there is no Ask the Person You’ve Been Pining for Who Has No Idea You Exist to Go with You to Prom Day, there may be no other day in a high school career that better proves a lack of universal satisfaction (Rolling Stones still stuck in my head).

A fascinating side to this little drama is that many of you who received less than desirable responses still won’t be sure exactly what decision has been made, and what actions you should take next.  You might receive a letter for a defer, waitlist, or a deny decision, and thanks to our carefully crafted and nurturing language, you might not even be sure.  When it comes down to it, no college admissions decision is really final, but your investment of time and energy may vary widely depending on which letter you receive.

Getting Deferred

Getting a DEFER decision is pretty unusual this time of year for freshmen, but it happens all the time for transfer students.  Being deferred is generally an indication that your record is on the borderline for admission, and the admissions office wants to see the grades for your courses in progress and/or more recent test scores before making a decision.  In that case, you want to get your grades and scores as high as possible.  You may also want to send a note to the office letting them know that you are really interested and that the school is your first choice, if that's the case.  You don't need to send any other supplemental information unless the school asks for it, or unless there is something significantly different or new going on with your situation. 

Denying Denial

If you get denied, you are unlikely to change the decision unless you believe the admissions committee made a huge mistake – for example, if your name is John Smith and you a have a 4.0 and perfect SAT scores, are valedictorian, and won a Nobel Prize, but were denied by your local junior college, you have a reasonable chance that there's been some confusion with your file.  It is possible that there is something the committee missed, overlooked, or just didn't know. You can, at most institutions, appeal your decision, although very few institutions announce this or even mention it.  If you wish to do so, you can send a letter to the Director of Admissions asking for a review, but I encourage you to consider whether you have any new information to offer.  If there is no significant new information to consider and unless that new information is really compelling, it's unlikely the school will change its decision.

Don’t Just Wait on the Waitlist

You may receive a letter that says “waitlisted.” This is also known as purgatory or limbo.  I suggest, sort of like deferred, you do your best to get your grades and scores up if you can, and send a note saying just how much you want admission to that school.  Some students try to appeal waitlist decisions, but I've found, often as not, that this pulls them out of waitlist consideration and into an appeals process, which is unlikely to be successful and may even hurt their chances on the waitlist.  Some schools offer waitlist interview opportunities – you should TAKE THEM.  It can’t hurt to have a little in-person begging and groveling, given the opportunity.  In addition, you can send them any significant new information.

New Significant Information

So, since I’ve now mentioned it thousands of times, what is “new significant information?”  Well, here are examples of what it’s NOT:

  • A copy of your garage band's really sweet track -- that's probably not helpful unless you're a PHENOMENAL musician AND applying to a music program (and even then it might never get a listen).
  • Recommendations from your mom, dad, sister, brother, or significant other.
  • The “best whittling skills with bar of soap” award you won in Cub Scouts.

On the other hand, say you win a Nobel Prize -- any Nobel Prize will do -- that's likely something you should share with the admissions officers.  Somewhere in between the soap carving award and the Nobel Prize, you’ll just have to decide for yourself.

The hardest thing to do is not to be miserable over a less than positive admission decision.  Too often, students tell me that their lives have been RUINED by the stupid decisions of some admission committee.  Please, don't give them (or even me) that much power.

One mom complained that “I just didn't know her daughter as well as she did.”  Right. That would be because she is -- wait for it -- not my daughter.  All colleges like to talk about how personally we treat you, but at the end of the day, admissions officers are making decisions about your life without spending much, if any, time with you. They only have what's on paper (or the screen), and maybe a few minutes from an interview, and that is NOT YOU.  There are 4,000 colleges and universities in the country and MANY will be great for you.  Don't let a bunch of people you never met be decision makers about your feelings of self-worth.  They don't know YOU, just a bunch of numbers. And yes, some might even make stupid decisions.

Of course, it's likely that Mason IS the perfect school for you (because we're just that good), but wherever you get admitted, bear this in mind:  As of the last big Department of Education study, 60% of all students in higher education attend more than one institution. Translation: Hundreds of thousands of students, the MAJORITY in higher education, transfer each year.  The U.S. has the greatest community and junior college system in the world. Don't be afraid to pick one as a great place to start. Also, it appears that which college you attend has no correlation with how much you make, or which reality show casts you (you know, the important things!) 

Be seeing you.

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