I would look at the clock – it was almost 4:30 p.m. and already dark in the Northeast. I remember that uneasy feeling that I would get at this time of year during my years overseeing university admission and enrollment. One would think that announcing the early admissions class would be a time of tremendous celebration. It was, for some, but it also meant that several thousand students would learn that they had been deferred to Regular Decision or, for some, denied admission during the early round. In the immediate moments after we released decisions we would hear from students and families who were elated with their admissions decisions. Social media would light up with expressions of excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to join the next class of students.
The excitement was followed by 12-24 hours of deafening silence. Oh the silence. During that time, the feeling of apprehensiveness that had gathered in the days leading up to decision notification would turn to dread. What followed “decision notification” were days filled with poignant conversations. We would occasionally receive an email from a student asking for some clarification about a decision, but the conversations were almost exclusively with parents searching for a specific reason for an unexpected, unwelcome admission decision.
More than once, a parent would share their own personal story of having not had the opportunity to attend a particular favored college or university and their anguish that their child would now also not have an opportunity to attend. Parents often wanted to understand what they could have done differently. These private moments with parents tugged at my heart. I tried to explain that rarely is there an instance where we can point to a particular reason that a student was not admitted. In reality, we could point to clear reasons for admitting students (e.g., unique talents; extraordinary experiences; standout transcript) and that we only have so many spaces in the class. On the other hand, it was unhappy work telling families that there were other students in this very large pool of talented students that presented a more compelling profile. We also had students who were a much better match with the institution. I also found myself saying, “it’s like selecting the shiniest diamond from a mountain of diamonds. They are all still diamonds regardless of whether they are selected or not.” I am certain that this didn’t help much.
What did help? One particular question always seemed to help us move the conversation along. “Tell me how your child is doing?” Inevitably, the parent would tell me that their child had already “moved on” from the decision and they marveled at the child’s resiliency. They would almost always tell me how much more talented their child is than they were at that age. They usually also expressed all the reasons why they so loved and admired their child. “Would it be helpful for me to speak with your child?” I would ask. The conversation would often then proceed in a predictable fashion. Mom or dad would decline my offer and tell me how their student was already applying to other colleges and sizing up other opportunities. We usually ended the call with a mutual exchange of “Happy Holidays!”
In all the years – nearly three decades – that I worked in college admission, I never received a return call a year, or five years, later to report that – indeed – that gut-wrenching decision had long-term negative consequences for their child. The truth of the matter is that, no matter how upsetting it feels in the moment, this is a fleeting moment. What is so important to remember is that most of the students who are denied admissions could indeed be successful students at the institution to which they have not been admitted. The decision is entirely a function of addressing institutional priorities while managing a limited number of admit spaces. It is not a commentary on a student’s ability or personal worth. Those students who are disappointed by early decision news merely have to wait a few more months to learn the direction their lives will take. As parents, I urge you to lean into this moment and I promise you that this month’s disappointment will begin to fade by the spring. And a mere 12 months from now, as you stock up on gear from your child’s new school, it likely will have been largely forgotten.
As always, I am in awe of our students and look forward to congratulating each of them as their individual college destinations are revealed in the coming months.
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.