It’s the rare college applicant who didn’t receive at least one denial this spring. And while misery loves company, being told you’re not alone doesn’t lessen the disappointment. Still, being denied, even by only one of the colleges you applied to, can be a surprisingly positive experience.
The 2022 admissions cycle was the most competitive yet, especially at highly selective (or, as those of us in the industry like to say, “highly rejective”) colleges. Harvard only admitted 3.19% of those who applied. Northwestern admitted 7%; Colorado College 12%; and the University of Virginia 19%.
There are many more colleges that admitted less than 20% of applicants, but just in looking at these four examples, anywhere from 81% to over 96% of the students who applied were denied admission. And it wasn’t because they weren’t qualified. Becky Munsterer Sakby, author and former admissions counselor at Dartmouth, recently told TIME, “College admissions officers make business decisions based on what’s best for the college. These decisions are not personal and an admitted student is no more ‘impressive’ than a denied student.”
Most experts agree that the rise of test-optional policies (mostly due to the Covid-19 pandemic) led to huge increases in applications, especially at the most prestigious colleges. In April, Inside Higher Ed reported that Harvard and Yale each received 7% more applications than they did in 2021. Brown’s applicant pool increased by 9%. Outside of the Ivy League, the University of Michigan saw a 6% increase and at the University of Pittsburgh, applications increased by a whopping 62%!
Consequently, admissions officers had to read thousands more applications this year than in the past. There’s no way they could give every application the attention it deserved. In the aforementioned TIME article, New York Times columnist Ron Lieber said, “Yours maybe got 8 minutes of their time and 2 minutes in a committee room, if they discussed you at all. They may have rejected you for any reason at all, or none whatsoever.” And, an application reader from UCLA admitted in a recent webinar that applications to University of California schools may get as little as a 58 second review!
Just because you were denied admission to one or more colleges, that does not diminish all of the amazing achievements you had during high school. Nor does it limit what you will go on to do, in college and beyond.
“A rejected student is still as bright, talented, and full of potential as he was before the rejection,” Sabky told TIME. “If we teach our young people that they are no ‘less’ because of a rejection (and no ‘more’ because of an admission), it can remind them that what matters most is not the name on their college sweatshirt, but who is wearing it.”
It may seem like the only question you’re being asked currently is, “Where are you going to college?” I doubt anyone is asking, “Where aren’t you going?” And, in three or four months, when you start college and are meeting your new classmates, they’re far more likely to ask “What’s your major?” than “Where didn’t you get in?” So, it’s time to embrace the future and stop wallowing in what might have been.
In a slightly tongue-in-cheek article, written as a thank you letter to a college that denied her admission, Wendy Siegel wrote, “I love the school I chose, that chose me. My classes and professors were inspiring, my tree-lined campus looked like it was made for an Oscar movie, the students in my classes and study groups challenged me to be my best. I made friends who felt like they’d been in my life forever. I was and am where I belong. So…THANK YOU. You taught me that I had it in me to bounce back. My college experience is exactly what I hoped it would be. And even better.” (Grown & Flown, March 19, 2021)
Instead of focusing on the colleges that didn’t admit you, turn your attention to the ones that did. Hopefully, several “great fit” colleges offered you a spot. These colleges are excited to have you on their campuses. They were impressed by your accomplishments and believe you have what it takes to be successful. The school you choose is the lucky one that gets to have you as a member of its campus community. Remember, it’s not about where you go to college, it’s about making the most of your time there and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way during the next four years.