Going through the admissions process for the first time: my oldest
My college admissions journey began in 2010 when my oldest child notified my husband and I that he would be applying to schools such as Yale, Princeton, and Bowdoin. I wasn’t really quite sure what to think. Coming from a small community where almost all of the students attend college within fifty miles of our home, it seemed almost like a dream.
Going into the process, we knew that our son was smart enough to attend those colleges. He had great scores on standardized tests, maintained a 4.0 unweighted G.P.A. throughout high school, and was involved in many extracurricular activities, including various community service projects.
Throughout the process, we learned along with him about the Common Application, financial aid, acceptance rates, and the various other tasks and responsibilities that come along with applying to top schools. Perhaps the most discouraging thing we learned through the process was the incredibly low acceptance rates at these various schools; though we knew he most likely had his foot in the door with his grades and standardized test scores, we were really unsure what to expect when decision day rolled around.
Through research, we learned that he would be notified of one of three outcomes. Acceptance, denial, or waitlist. Some people refer to being waitlisted like it’s purgatory: you aren’t in, you aren’t out, you are just in limbo for an undetermined amount of time.
Obviously, we hoped for an acceptance, but we were also realistic, and understood that acceptance rates were so low that no one was guaranteed admission no matter how smart you were. Although we provided encouragement and support to our son, we also knew it was very possible he would be denied admission. After all, it’s not difficult to understand that if the acceptance rate was 7%, that meant that 93% of the applicants were denied admission. Accordingly, we encouraged him to keep an open mind about the state school he had applied to.
We spent the next several months visiting area schools, and we even toured all of the out-of- state schools he applied to. He understood that the possibility of being admitted was very low, so he completed all the necessary requirements to enroll in the state school that he would most likely be attending.
Getting the News on Decision Day
After what seemed like an eternity, decision day finally came. His fate would be determined within minutes of opening the emails or logging on to the portals. One by one, as he opened his decisions, they were met with mixed feelings. Feelings of excitement, joy, disappointment, and unknown certainty as to if we would be able to afford to send him to this type of school.
His decisions came with mixed reviews. One acceptance, one rejection and one waitlist. Unfortunately, after opening the financial aid package, we quickly learned that we would be unable to afford the school he was accepted to which left him with a rejection and a waitlist.
We encouraged him to stay on the waitlist and did some research as to what he should do next. We learned that it may be beneficial to send a letter of continued interest to the school he was waitlisted at and to update them on any additional accomplishments that he had since his initial application. He completed the continued letter of interest and went on with daily life.
He had more or less forgotten about the waitlist, or had at least put it in the back of his mind until the phone rang on Mother’s Day, 2010. I remember it as though it were yesterday. We were riding in the car and his cell phone rang. It was a Yale admissions counselor asking him if he was still interested in attending Yale, and he let him know they had a spot for him if he was still interested. Without any hesitation, he said yes, and the rest is history. He graduated in 2014 and now works at the university.
Round 2: My eldest daughter’s admissions experience
Although my son was the first from our community to be admitted to a college like this, it inspired my next oldest to apply to similar schools in 2012. Her experience was a bit different, but one well worth sharing. She initially applied to Yale EA (early action) and was deferred. A deferral meant that her application would be looked at again in the regular pool of applicants and that she would have to wait until April to learn of her fate.
She completed and submitted her other applications and the waiting game began.
In early February, she received an academic likely letter from one of the Ivy’s. Receiving an academic likely letter is very rare, as it assures an applicant his or her acceptance to the college unless something drastically changed prior to graduation. The likely letter allowed her to fall in love with the college, and she was convinced that she would be attending this college in the fall.
When decision day came, she opened her decisions one by one. It was no surprise she was admitted to the college she received the likely letter from, but she found that her deferral from Yale turned into a denial. As she waited to open her last decision, which had originally been her first choice, I supported and encouraged her and reminded her that no matter what happened, she had her one acceptance.
The last decision she opened was initially her first choice, prior to the likely, and I knew there was a part of her that still hoped for acceptance. As she opened her decision, she never got past the “congratulations” in the first line — I remember her standing there in disbelief for several minutes.
With all things seeming relatively equal, it seemed like an impossible task to decide between the two acceptances, but she signed up for admit days at both universities. Unlike her brother, she had not visited the two universities she had been accepted to, so it was important she had the opportunity to visit each before making her decision.
To our surprise, when she visited the first school that she had received the likely from, she found within minutes that she didn’t like it there. Although she had fallen in love with it from afar, when she actually stepped on the campus, she had the immediate feeling that this was not somewhere she could spend the next four years of her life.
I remember her calling me and saying “what if I don’t like either of these schools?” I encouraged her to have an open mind when visiting the other school. When she arrived at the second admit days, she called within minutes and exclaimed that this school felt like home. This is where she wanted to spend the next four years of her life.
She graduated in 2016 from Stanford University and now resides in Palo Alto working at a college prep school helping others achieve their dreams.
My youngest daughter’s journey
Three years later, it was our third child’s turn to decide where she wanted to apply to college. The idea that attending schools such as Yale or Stanford was no longer an impossibility, so she began making her list of dream schools.
As we visited various colleges, she knew she did not want to follow in her brother’s footsteps, and although she felt Stanford was somewhere she could attend if she was accepted, she fell in love with Princeton the moment she stepped on campus.
While on the campus tour, the tour guide spoke of a relatively new program called Bridge Year (gap year), in which 35 incoming Freshman would be selected to go to another country to do service.
As a parent, I understood that the chances of her being admitted to Princeton would be small and the idea that if she was admitted, her chances of being selected for Bridge Year, would be even slimmer.
Applying early action and forging her own path
She made the decision to apply EA (early action) to Princeton. She poured her heart and soul into the application. She also submitted an application to Stanford, regular decision, and held off submitting any of the other applications until after the EA decisions were released. When EA decisions were released in mid-December, she was elated to learn that she was admitted to Princeton.
To be honest, I think she was a Princeton Tiger at heart and even if she was admitted to Stanford, I believe her decision would have remained the same.
I also realized that although it may have been easier for me as her mother to have her attend college where her sister did, it wasn’t about what I wanted, but what she wanted. What she wanted was to become a Princeton Tiger and to spend a gap year abroad through the Bridge Year Program.
Her story doesn’t end there. She applied for the Bridge Year Program and was one of the thirty-five students that were selected for the program. She spent her year abroad doing service, learning Portuguese, and she fell in love with her host family and the Brazilian culture. She came back more focused and determined to pursue a degree in Spanish and Portuguese Studies and her journey is just beginning.
What I learned through the college admissions process
Over the past seven years, I have come to realize that although my story may seem like a fairy tale to most, it wasn’t really about where my children went to school, but rather what they do with the opportunities that they are presented with.
If you are reading this blog, I can assure you that your children will be successful no matter where they attend college. No one can ever take away all of their hard work and accomplishments and a school will not determine their success. Only they can do that.
They are given a blank slate on which to write each chapter. As each chapter is written, their story will unfold and become their own story where they are the author and creator.
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