March can be an agonizing month for high school seniors and their parents. This is when many college admission decisions come back, and this avalanche of news can be an emotional roller coaster for all involved.
Students who have been admitted to their dream school can’t help but be excited, sharing the good news with friends and family and posting announcements on social media. Those students absolutely deserve to be happy after all the work they put in and the long wait to hear back from schools.
But at exactly the same moment, there are many more students who find out that they haven’t quite made the cut at the same school. They might be feeling angry, sad, and frustrated, thinking that they somehow failed to do something in the process, or that their best work just wasn’t quite good enough. Meanwhile, others who have waited so long for a response have been told to twiddle their thumbs a little longer. They’re being placed on a waiting list for several more weeks while the college of their dreams sorts through who’s coming to see if they have any extra space.
Often, those who fall into the latter two camps have received letters with bland and impersonal language saying something about how “this was a particularly competitive year for us” or some vague reference to a “record number of applications.” That might sound like the party line answer, and it is. Decisions are decisions, and the colleges have to stand by them. But it falls far short of telling the whole story.
Anyone who has ever served on an admission committee can give a dozen examples of the heated arguments that come up and the tears admission officers shed on behalf of students in committee. We can tell you about the kids we advocated for with every ounce of energy that we had, using every single piece of writing and every story that we could find to make a compelling case, only to have them fall one vote short when the final decision had to be made. Those students received exactly the same letter.
So to those students (and their parents) who receive the proverbial “small envelope” this year, just know from a former admission officer that there wasn’t one particular thing that you did or did not do that caused the admission committee’s decision. And just because you get a letter that sounds indifferent doesn’t mean that no one was advocating for you on the admission committee or that you’re the only one feeling disappointed with the result.
Admission decisions are hard, and the admission officers who advocate on behalf of their students are professionals who do their absolute best to make sure that your voice and experiences are heard in that committee room. So no matter how generic the verbiage might sound in a letter or email, it doesn’t mean that the decision was arrived upon lightly. You’ve still got plenty of people in your corner.