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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Don’t Worry So Much About Where

Don’t Worry So Much About Where

Like the author of the article I am sharing below — and that I share every year around this time — I was not a perfect student in high school. I similarly credit my “failure” in high school, and rejection by my “dream” college, with leading me to a school that was the best place for me to develop into the student I had the ability to be but couldn’t be as a rebellious teen. Luckily, my parents let me lead in my college admissions process and that also meant accepting the “consequences” of my GPA. I can’t possibly think about where I would be today if it had happened any other way. I never would have learned, what I thought then was the hard way, about what really matters in creating a life (and finding work) with meaning, and becoming an energized and self-directed learner.

Anyway, 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 old-ish article in Time that I will never stop posting. I hope you give it a read.

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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 in terms of income, job satisfaction and life satisfaction whether you go to an elite private college or a less-selective state university. Or that 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.

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Make The Best of It

I am “borrowing” this image from an email I received a while ago from Bulldog Drummond; I think I am on this listserv because I also closely follow The YouSchool.

Anyway, time for some real talk now that early application decision releases begin in a few short weeks or less.

In most cases, three things happen with early applications:

-You get in
-You get deferred
-You get denied

If you get in, congrats! Celebrate! For most of you, the process of applying to college is now over. If you get deferred, and I know this sounds negative, in most cases you need to consider this a denial. Very few students get admitted off deferral at top colleges. If you are denied, I actually think this is better than a deferral. Why? Because it makes it much easier to move on and focus on the schools that are next on your list whether that is an ED II school or a select group of RD schools.

Now back to the quote. A deferral or denial is not the end of the world. It simply is what it is. The best thing you can do if you fall into one of these two pools, and remember—you are one of many who do—is to look positively forward toward the other schools on your list and flip any negative feelings you have into energy that you can use to make those apps the best they can be if you are still working on them. There is really no time or need to wallow in a denial or deferral; you can’t change the outcome. What you can control is your reaction to it. Use this time wisely and don’t spend much if any time or energy on thinking about why things did not work out. Instead, think about how you can ensure they will for the schools left on your list!

 

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Why You Should Look Beyond The Usual Suspects When Applying To College

Not a news flash: Getting into the country’s most selective colleges is more fiercely competitive than ever, with many schools reporting a record number of applicants (again). To many, this news is fear-inducing. How will I (or my child) possibly get admitted to a “top” college or university? Answering how is hard. There are no silver bullets in this process, and the reality is most applicants won’t get admitted to the top-top schools. Instead of trying (too hard in many cases) to become the applicant you think one of these uber selective schools will admit, I suggest a path of far less resistance and more authenticty—a path that includes looking at colleges where you have a realistic chance of being admitted.

There are schools outside of the top 30 ranked on US News, and they are excellent. We help families find these schools, and we’ve seen that when they can think outside of the box, they end up with incredible options and look back on the process much more fondly than those that are laser-focused on the same set of schools at which the rest of the world is aiming.

Here are some numbers from a recent Boston Globe article noting the 20-year admit rate changes at a few of the country’s most popular schools. I’ve been saying this for a few years now, but it is time to start looking outside of the bubble of these and the other “most popular” schools, and these numbers should provide a nudge in doing so.

 

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March (College Admissions) Madness

March. Quite the month for many students, parents, and counselors.

Alongside excitement, there is often a good amount of disappointment, frustration, anger, and confusion. Many of these feelings stem from rejections or waitlist responses from our country’s most selective schools. But did you know: there are thousands of colleges in the U.S., and the vast majority of them accept far more applicants than they reject? There are just so many fantastic schools that fly under the radar and not only those on the CTCL list, either. I hope that in the future more students and parents will look beyond the schools with the most significant brand recognition and prestige as they craft their college lists. In fact, they are going to have to if you look at this years admit rates. I think that is a good thing.

In addition to considering other colleges, I also hope students can take some time to reflect back on their college application process and see the positives—personal growth, self-actualization, maybe even becoming a better writer—in light of rejections or other perceived failures.

Just making it through high school today is no joke, so I suggest starting there! The students I work with are so accomplished, every single one of them, and they have a lot to feel proud of every day. Sometimes it just takes some honest reflection to see and internalize all of the good that is already in your life. Second, where you go to college does not determine your happiness, your success in life, or set your future path in stone. This has been true since before Frank Bruni told us so. What is more important is much more personal—like how hard you work and how you treat others. To me, that is what will take you far in life. Third, I suggest practicing gratitude during this time, even though it may feel hard. Gratitude is a skill, so you must practice it. Lynn Goldberg at Tiny Buddha has some great tips for getting started:

1. Keep a gratitude journal.

Make gratitude a daily habit. Every day, jot down ten great things that happened to you or that you are grateful for. Keeping your focus on the positive will really make a difference.

2. Practice present moment awareness.

The habit of being fully present and not wishing for something in the future or the past—but just being grateful for what is—can really shift your perspective. Catch yourself when that moment escapes you, and gently remind yourself to come back.

3. Think bigger than yourself.

Become involved in a cause that is important to you. As you become aware of other people who are less fortunate than you, you will start to feel a deeper appreciation for what you do have. Many of us have so much.

4. Share the love with your family and friends.

Cultivate an appreciation for others and let them regularly know that you are grateful for them and for what they do for you—whether it be helping with homework or always inviting you out to do something fun. Focusing on the positive will make people want to keep doing it, and help you realize you should be doing the same.

5. Replace complaints with gratitude.

When you find yourself focusing on what you believe you’re lacking—I wish my car were nicer, I had more money, or I got into a “better” college—replace it with thoughts of what you are thankful for.

To all the college applicants out there who know where they are headed at the end of the summer, this advice applies to you, too. And to everyone else still waiting to hear, still waiting to decide, or who is going to tough it out on the WL this spring and into summer, stay positive and remember:

“Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications are not your life.” (JK Rowling)

I will be posting more thoughts from Rowling about “failure” later this month, from one of my favorite tiny books, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.

 

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College rejection letter or waitlist blues?

There are, and always have been, many wonderful college opportunities for students.

Last March, Maria Furtado, Executive Director of CTCL, had quite a bit to say about this and on the Turning the Tide initiative—an initiative heavily supported by many of the most selective schools in the country. I am thinking about it again this month because March—for many students—is a tough month.

Alongside excitement, there is often a good amount of disappointment, frustration, anger, and confusion among students and families. Many of these feelings stem from rejections or waitlist responses from our country’s most selective schools, and it’s no wonder with such a laser sharp focus on getting into and attending a top 10, 20, or 30 college or university as defined by US News. But did you know, as Jeffrey Selingo notes in a recent Washington Post article, “There are thousands of colleges in the U.S., and the vast majority of them accept far more applicants than they reject.” There are just SO many other wonderful schools that fly under the radar and not just those on the CTCL list, either. I hope that in the future more students and families will look beyond the schools with the greatest brand recognition and prestige.

In addition to Maria Furtado’s advice to “encourage students to consider other colleges,” I also hope students can take some time to reflect back on their college process and see the positives—personal growth, self-actualization, maybe even becoming a better writer—in light of rejections or other perceived ‘failures’ (namely, a college rejection or waitlist).

Here are some other considerations: making it through high school today is no joke, so I suggest starting there! The students I work with are SO accomplished, every single one of them, and they have a lot to feel proud about each and every day. Sometimes it just takes some honest reflection to see and internalize all of the good that is already in your life. Second, where you go to college does not determine your happiness, your success in life, or set your future path in stone. It is far more about who you are, how hard you work, and how you treat others that will take you far in life. Third, I suggest practicing gratitude during this time, even though it may feel hard. Gratitude is a skill, so you must practice it. Lynn Goldberg at Tiny Buddha has some great tips for getting started:

1. Keep a gratitude journal.

Make gratitude a daily habit. Every day, jot down 10 great things that happened to you or that you are grateful for. Keeping your focus on the positive will really make a difference.

2. Practice present moment awareness.

The habit of being fully present and not wishing for something in the future or the past—but just being grateful for what is—can really shift your perspective. Catch yourself when that moment escapes you, and gently remind yourself to come back.

3. Think bigger than yourself.

Become involved in a cause that is important to you. As you become aware of other people who are less fortunate than you, you will start to feel a deeper appreciation for what you do have.

4. Share the love with your family and friends.

Cultivate an appreciation for others and let them regularly know that you are grateful for them and for what they do for you—whether it be helping around the house or always inviting you out for a fun event. Focusing on the positive will make people want to keep doing it!

5. Replace complaints with gratitude.

When you find yourself focusing on what you believe you’re lacking—I wish my car were nicer, I had more money, or I got into a “better” college—replace it with thoughts of what you are thankful for.

To all the college applicants out there who know where they are headed at the end of the summer, this advice applies to you, too. And to everyone else still waiting to hear, still waiting to decide, or who is going to tough it out on the WL this spring and into summer, stay positive and remember, “Personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications are not your life.” (JK Rowling)

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