Mar 23, 2012

The 'Real' March Madness

This year, the process of rolling out admissions decisions seems to have gone on forever. Starting in early December and relentlessly continuing through the end of March, the lines between early and regular or deferred and waitlisted have definitely become blurred.

And the focus has been even less defined by the proliferation of “likely” letters and phone calls from admissions offices anxious to get a leg up on the competition.

Still money is on everyone’s mind with final decisions often taking second seat to financial aid packages, which have been notably slow to arrive.

Yes, the time-honored tradition of waiting beside the mailbox for a "fat" envelope has largely been replaced by runs to the computer lab or a mad dash upstairs for a peek at results flashed on a computer screen.

And with all the madness came the gaming. Because no decision could be taken for granted, students hedged their bets by submitting increased numbers of applications resulting in an embarrassment of riches or a heightened sense of failure driven by repeated rejection.

Sadly, the ease of electronic applications may have facilitated the practice, but anxiety drove it.

Then there are the lingering issues of how colleges will view “full pay” candidates and what strategies will be used to distribute scarce financial aid resources as colleges establish priorities somewhere between merit and need.

Seniors may be experiencing the madness first hand, but underclassmen who are "on deck" should be taking notes.

So here is some advice: the real key to surviving the next few weeks is to not let any admissions decision define you. The college admissions process for some schools has become nothing short of a crap shoot.

No one, not even college admissions staff, has a clear rationale for why certain students are admitted and others are not.

Harvard’s dean of admission, William Fitzsimmons, regularly reminds high school students that his office could go through the application screening process, carefully select a class, chuck it all out, start all over again, and still have an equally competitive freshman class. It’s just that arbitrary sometimes.

And when all is said and done—does it really matter? Study after study has shown that it’s not where you go to college that counts as much as what you do once you get there. Success is all about hard work and perseverance and has very little to do with credentials or prestige.

As the trickle of decisions slowly becomes a flood over the next few weeks, it will become apparent that students who took the time to research colleges and determine which represented the best possible “fit” will realize the best results.

Those who used the US News and World Report rankings as their primary guide to colleges probably will not do as well.

So, take joy in good news and don’t dwell on the bad.

Offer support to friends and continue to weigh your decisions carefully before eventually settling on the offer you accept. Pursue waitlists if you want, but look carefully at what you’ve already got before spending too much emotional energy in that direction.

Between now and May 1st, you’re in the driver’s seat with the schools that admitted you, and they will work hard to “earn your business.”

Keep that in mind and enjoy the moment.

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