By Bonnie Raskin
Bonnie is the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Program Coordinator at IEA and has extensive experience working with gifted middle school students to find the high school that best fits their individual intellectual and personal needs.
I have the pleasure and privilege to work with some of the smartest, most creative young people in the United States. While my comments are primarily geared towards high school, much of what follows is applicable to any phase of the application process that many of you will deal with in the course of your academic lives.
Applications to most of the so-called selective independent high schools throughout the country have increased 10% over previous years, resulting for many of these schools in their lowest admit rate as well. It’s therefore probable that not all of the students who might want to attend a certain school, regardless of their outstanding qualifications and eligibility requirements, may receive that coveted letter or e-mail of admission.
My first bit of advice is to remain calm. A rejection – or the buzzword among many schools today “nonadmit” or “deny” notification – does not mean that you as a parent or your child has some irredeemable flaw. In the vast majority of cases, this decision has more to do with the sheer number of uber-outstanding applicants from an international pool and what each admissions team views as compatibility (i.e. better matches) for their school’s program than any negative about you or your son or daughter. This is not about there being anything wrong with your child’s application or who they are as people and how they present themselves in interviews. As disappointing as a turn-down is, if the student is not right for the program or the curriculum, he or she will not flourish at that school.
Some of the best information on this subject comes from Jane Foley Fried, Director of Admissions at Phillips Academy: “For some of you, this may be the first disappointment of your young lives. We live in a culture that does not readily prepare opportunities for disappointment, with failure an experience to be avoided at all costs. Is it better not to try than to be disappointed? Is not being admitted to a secondary school a failure? When the news is delivered, I receive many calls from parents wanting to know what their child did wrong in an unsuccessful attempt for admission at a particular school. Success does not begin with one’s admission to their top choice nor does it end with a waitlist or deny letter. Seriously—when one door closes, another opens. Parents can be good models of resilience and reason. If you or your child dwells on the closed door, your child will never walk through the open door. School matches are made by the admission staff and the family. Do not waste time thinking about what could have been. Get excited about what is.”
In the big picture of a life journey, this is one step on a long road, often one that diverges into many paths, some different from the route you expected to take. No matter how incredible a student, artist, musician, performer, inventor or genius you are, disappointment is a part of life, everyone’s life. It may be helpful to assess what you have learned about yourself should you not receive the admission you were hoping for: are you someone who is resilient and can bounce back from disappointment, a key life skill? Writing about yourself as you had to do in your application is a terrific exercise towards self-knowledge. Take comfort in the hard work and preparation you put into the application process. Perseverance and tenacity to not only reach but attempt to reach goals are also valuable characteristics often honed through adversity. The admissions process is one that the applicant has limited control over. There should be some comfort in recognizing that everything happens for a reason. If you have received other acceptances, to only dwell on where you did not get in is a consummate waste of time and energy and will not change the outcome.
It has been shown to me time and time again that there is tremendous wisdom and value in UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden’s quote: “Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”