Rejection Often Happens Because of a Lack of Fit

When someone rejects you, it helps to remember that there’s another you.

Each year since it was posted, I have revisited a wonderful article by Adam Grant on rejection.

We are thankful that most of our students gain admission to their top choice schools in the EA, ED 1, or ED 2 rounds. But every year, we wait for RD results alongside students who were not so lucky or strategic in their choices. I love seeing students’ “pictures” come together in their applications, and I don’t love the anxiety that leads up to decision releases and knowing how hard most students (and many of their parents) take rejection.

As someone who has been rejected an appropriate amount, How to Bounce Back From Rejection is something I know well. However, it is not something you can really teach or prepare a student for when it comes to the college process. It is especially tough during a sea change year (i.e., this year) and when there is a lot of misinformation and misguidance around how hard it really is to get into top schools in the US, but this post is not about that!

What Grants points out that I hope all students and parents can keep in mind is rejection often happens for a reason: lack of fit. It is not entirely personal or a reflection of your whole self or success as a student. You don’t control a school’s behind-the-scenes institutional priorities, and they are shifting drastically. Sometimes, no matter how qualified you are on paper, you are not what a school needs and there is simply nothing that you can do about it. 

Please keep in mind:

We are more than the bullet points on our resumes. We are better than the sentences we string together into a word salad under the magnifying glass of an interview. No one is rejecting us. They are rejecting a sample of our work, sometimes only after seeing it through a foggy lens.

Hang in there, folks! In the end, things almost always tend to work out just how they should.

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Rejection and Lack of Fit

Rejection and Lack of Fit

With the amount I post on how to deal with failure, rejection, and disappointment, you’d think all of your students rack up a long list of denials! That’s not the case, and since this blog is widely read outside of our client base, I post what’s on my mind around this process broadly. I know this time of year is tough on families with high hopes in this process, so I post about the tough parts.

A want to share a wonderful article by Adam Grant.  As someone who has been rejected an appropriate amount, How to Bounce Back From Rejection is something I believe I know well. However, it is not something you can really teach or prepare a student for when it comes to the college process. There will be some disappointment and it hurts. Sometimes it comes before you submit apps, for example, hearing that you don’t have a competitive profile for a certain school. But often it comes later, once that sentiment is cemented by a deferral or rejection.

What Grants points out that I hope all students can keep in mind is rejection often happens because of a lack of fit. In college admissions, you don’t control what a school decides is the fit they need at any given moment in the process. It is not entirely personal or a reflection of your whole self as a student, person, friend, classmate, son, daughter, etc. Students, please remember:

We are more than the bullet points on our resumes. We are better than the sentences we string together into a word salad under the magnifying glass of an interview. No one is rejecting us. They are rejecting a sample of our work, sometimes only after seeing it through a foggy lens.

And I hope parents also do not take a college rejection personally. I know many of you who were/are deep in the process; where your student goes to college has nothing to do with and says nothing about your success as a parent.

“When someone rejects you, it helps to remember that there’s another you.” Hang in there!

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Does it Really Matter Where You Go to College?

William Stixrud is the co-author of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives, with Ned Johnson. Below is an article of his in Time. As we gear up for the 2019-2020 admissions season (yes, it is that time of year!), I suggest both students and parents give it a read.
Why?
Because this process is increasingly seen as something that it is not. There are many “shared delusions”: a one-way ticket to greatness, a better life, a magical four years you can only experience at college X, and so on. And it may lead some people to those things, but more often than not, it is not where you go that matters it is what you do when you get there, how you take in, make meaning out of, and navigate those four years. As Stixrud notes: “We become successful by working hard at something that engages us, and by pulling ourselves up when we stumble.”
I would love to know what you think. I love this topic, so feel free to email me your thoughts!
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When my daughter Jora was in high school, she went to a talk I gave on the adolescent brain, during which I pointed out that high school grades don’t predict success very well. On the way home she said, “Great talk, Dad, but I bet you don’t really believe that bit about grades.” I assured her that I did. To prove it, I offered to pay her $100 if she got a ‘C’ on her next report card — in any subject.
We’ve all heard the familiar anxiety-inducing nostrums: That a screw-up in high school will follow you for the rest of your life. That if you don’t get into Harvard or Yale, you’ll never reach the c-suite. That the path to success is narrow and you’d better not take one false step. I have come to think of this unfounded belief system as what we psychologists call a “shared delusion.”

So why don’t we tell our kids the truth about success? We could start with the fact that only a third of adults hold degrees from four-year colleges. Or that you’ll do equally well regarding income, job satisfaction, and life satisfaction whether you go to an elite private college or a less-selective state university. Or that there are there are many occupations through which Americans make a living, many of which do not require a college degree.

I am not against being a good student, and there are clear advantages to doing well in school. But you don’t need to be a top student or go to a highly selective college to have a successful and fulfilling life. The path to success is not nearly so narrow as we think. We’ve all heard the stories of the college dropout who went on to found a wildly successful company. I myself was a C+ student in high school who flunked out of graduate school. At one point I went for 20 weeks without turning in a single assignment. (I often tell the underachievers I see in my practice: “Top that!”) Long story short, I managed to do pretty well in life, and I credit my failure in graduate school with leading me to a career more in line with my skill set.

The problem with the stories we’re telling our kids is that they foster fear and competition. This false paradigm affects high-achieving kids, for whom a rigid view of the path to success creates unnecessary anxiety, and low-achieving kids, many of whom conclude at a young age that they will never be successful, and adopt a “why try at all?” attitude. Many of these young people engage in one of the most debilitating forms of self-talk, telling themselves either, “I have to, but I can’t,” or “I have to, but I hate it.”

Why do we encourage our children to embrace this delusional view of what it takes to be successful?

I’ve asked various school administrators why they don’t just tell kids the truth about college — that where you go makes very little difference later in life.

They’ll shrug and say, “Even if we did, no one would believe it.” One confided to me, “We would get angry calls and letters from parents who believe that, if their children understood the truth, they would not work hard in school and would have second-class lives.”

Many adults worry that if their kids knew that grades in school aren’t highly predictive of success in life, they’d lose their motivation to apply themselves and aim high. In fact, the opposite is true. In my 32 years of working with kids as a psychologist, I’ve seen that simply telling kids the truth — giving them an accurate model of reality, including the advantages of being a good student — increases their flexibility and drive. It motivates kids with high aspirations to shift their emphasis from achieving for its own sake to educating themselves so that they can make an important contribution. An accurate model of reality also encourages less-motivated students to think more broadly about their options and energizes them to pursue education and self-development even if they aren’t top achievers.

Children are much more energized when they envision a future that is in line with their own values than when they dutifully do whatever they believe they have to do to live up to their parents’ or teachers’ or college admissions boards’ expectations. We don’t inspire our kids through fear. We inspire them by helping them to focus on getting better at something, rather than being the best, and by encouraging them to immerse themselves in something they love.

So if you want your kids to succeed in life, don’t perpetuate a fear-based understanding of success. Start with the assumption that your children want their lives to work. Then tell them the truth: That we become successful by working hard at something that engages us, and by pulling ourselves up when we stumble.


Like the author, I was not a perfect student in high school (although I did not flunk out of college or graduate school). However, I similarly credit my “failure” in high school, and not getting into my “dream” college, with leading me to a school and eventually a career most in line with my skills and vision. I am incredibly thankful for the unwavering support of my parents along the way, especially during high school when I was a rebellious and often not very pleasant to be around teen.

PS – Adam Grant wrote about grades recently, too. Check out What Straight-A Students Get Wrong. Another fantastic read.

 

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How Praise Became a Consolation Prize

 

If you haven’t read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, then I suggest adding it to your to-read list. In it, Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talents that bring us success–but our approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. She makes clear why praising intelligence and ability doesn’t foster self-esteem or even lead to accomplishments. In reality, too much praise works against us. A growth mindset, however, can foster resilience in students—something I have witnessed a lack of in many high schoolers today.

With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to raise their grades, as well as reach our own goals–personal and professional.

Anyway, I came across a great interview recently (via Adam Grant’s email list) with Dweck in The Atlantic. Grab the book and give the interview a read!