When Good Students Are Rejected

Reader and parent Gary B. writes in, unsatisfied with the college admissions process and looking for suggestions:

My daughter was rejected from UCLA. That's a common phrase from parents, I'm sure, but here's what's uncommon: Her GPA was 4.1 weighted, 3.89 unweighted. She achieved 30 on the ACT, 740 on SAT II math, and 680 in chemistry. As I'm sure you know, these scores rank her in all the top percentiles. Though she didn't always take the hardest courses available to her, most were honors and AP. She was Vice-President of a club, spent three years on a sports team, two of them varsity, plays a musical instrument and did about 55 hours of community service in her junior and senior years. So I guess my question is: If she is so far above the averages, why was she still rejected? And what can I do to appeal the decision?

Thanks for writing, Gary. I wish I could give a more exact response, but I'm afraid that I just don't know enough about your daughter's unique background to know precisely why UCLA might decide not to accept her. She does seem like quite a talented young woman, though.

I would like to reframe your thinking a bit. Remember that college admissions is not just about the numbers game. An application full of high test scores and impressive GPAs complete with a resume padded with accomplishments and activities may look like a guaranteed admission, but there are other factors considered, too. Simply comparing basic statistical information between students rarely paints the entire picture. Application review is a holistic process, which evaluates the totality of a student's experiences. This explains some of the apparent inconsistencies that arise from comparing applicants.

Also remember that with the competitiveness of all students constantly increasing, there is more subjectivity than ever in the decision-making process. Two essays of equal technical merit and on comparatively deep and analytical issues may resonate differently with the same admissions officer. Sometimes getting lucky and penning a personal statement that touches upon the reader's particular emotions that day is the difference between acceptance and rejection, unfair as that may be.

Finally, remember that college do not simply admit the "best" 2000 applicants for their 2000 available seats. A university wants to build diversity into its new student body. Thus, if the "best" 2000 students all happen to play a musical instrument but have never competed in a science fair, the 2001st and 2002nd "best" applicants who did may be accepted over someone in the top 2000. In other words, similarities your daughter shared with other applicants in the same general test score and GPA bracket may have hurt her, even though these are circumstances completely beyond her control.

We can never really know for sure why admissions committees make some of the decisions they do. At best, we can plan and strategize, but ultimately luck does play a role, especially at the more elite colleges. Though I must recommend against pursuing to your final question, "what can I do to appeal the decision?" What you can do is much different than what your daughter can do. If she would like additional review, she may contact the admissions office herself and request information about the procedure. I encourage you to support her in this process if she decides to do it, but do not force her and especially do not do it yourself.

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to remain positive and supportive. Be there for your daughter and help her through the disappointment she is feeling. This time is incredibly stressful for her. I highly recommend my article on this topic, How Parents can Deal Positively with Rejection, which should provide additional guidance for you and some tips for how to support your daughter. Know that a single rejection is never the end of the world, and that if UCLA was your daughter's dream school, there are still avenues to her ultimate enrollment there. Good luck to you and your daughter, and thanks again for your question.

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Five Tips to Make Financial Incentives for Your Son/Daughter Work

Child putting money into piggy bankColleges already are paying your son or daughter for academic success in the form of merit-based scholarships. Should you be doing the same? Some parents scoff at the idea, and call these rewards "bribery," forgetting that there is a difference difference between bribing and reinforcing. Others are still fooled by the outdated 70's belief that rewarding achievement will undermine your son or daughter's natural will to succeed. In actuality, your reinforcement will strengthen his or her drive and influence positive academic growth.

I believe in the power of academic incentives, and Deborah Fox of Pay for College Blog agrees. Here are five tips to help you create your own academic incentive program:

  1. Reward improvement rather than offering awards for specific letter grades. By recognizing only As or Bs, siblings who cannot perform as well feel left out. Give every child a chance to succeed by rewarding improvements like more time devoted to homework, increased test performance, or better behavior in class.
  2. Be uniform in your rewards so that your son or daughter always knows what to expect and so that there is no accusation of favoritism from siblings. It can be as simple as a, "if your grade goes up, we'll all go out for ice cream" promise, or as complex as a list of rewards on the refrigerator.
  3. ...but also be spontaneous. "Variable ratio reinforcement" may sound like psychobabble, but it is a tool of positive reinforcement that slot machine designers use to great success. Rewarding your son or daughter in unpredictable ways has a powerful effect on his or her desire to succeed. Consider "catching" your child studying hard one day, and surprising him or her with that new toy they've been wanting. It may sound crazy -- and your child might think that you are when you do it -- but it really does work.
  4. Involve the entire family in the rewards process. Instead of padding your son or daughter's piggy bank, plan a family dinner at the rewarded child's favorite restaurant, or let him/her pick the next family movie. Not only will this help avoid siblings' hurt feelings, it will also give the child a greater sense of accomplishment and inclusion because the entire family is joining in the celebration.
  5. Encourage a supportive atmosphere for your child with his/her peers and siblings. Parental praise is great, but a congratulations from an equal gives a huge boost to a child's self-esteem.

Reinforcement can be powerful in shaping your child's will to succeed. Use these techniques to maximize your academic incentive program and you'll have a child driven to achieve and ready for college in no time.

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How to Get a Homeschooled Student Into College

Parent homeschooling 4 children

Homeschooling is catching on, and colleges are becoming increasingly sensitive to the needs of homeschooled students in the admissions process. However, there are still things that a homeschooler must do to ensure that their child is as competitive as he or she can be. Read all about these tips in my newest article, The 9 Things Homeschoolers Must Do for College Admission

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What Parents Don’t Know About Financial Aid Will Hurt Them

35% of parents think that the college financial aid office is their best source of information for paying for college, according to the March 2008 issue of University Business. And while these parents are correct that the financial aid office is a good source of information, they should be wary to call it the 'best'.

Remember that a college financial aid counselor is there to assist you with specific information about how the university handles particular financial issues. While they are terrific when offering advice about how to, for example, report a private scholarship a student has earned, many parents ask questions outside the scope of their training. In other word, their job is to divvy up the college's limited financial aid money to all of a school's students, not to make sure that a particular student pays as little as possible.

While colleges try to be as fair as possible in constructing financial aid packages, families should never rely solely on the information that the university supplies freely to you. You should make a specific effort to draw out as much assistance as you possibly can, especially when initially evaluating colleges. To help you in this process, I have written a new article, The 7 Questions You Must Ask to Save Thousands in College Tuition.

Stressed Parent? Try the Parent’s College Admissions Mantra

I'm reading through the Fiske 2008 Guide to Collegesamazon affiliate link. I enjoyed the previous versions, so I wanted to give this year's new version a read-through. So far, I have to say that I highly recommend it.

I just had to share the following (edited) gem from the Fiske guide, the "Parent's College Admissions Pledge":

I am a parent and I know nothing. I am serene.

Confronted with endless procrastination, my impulse it to take control - to register for tests, plan visits, schedule interviews, and get applications. And yet I know that everything will be fine if I can summon the fortitude to relax. My child is smart, capable, and perhaps a little too accustomed to me jumping in and fixing things. I will hold back. I will drop hints and encourage, then back off. I will facilitate rather than dominate.

I will not get too high or low about any facet of the college search. By doing so, I give it more importance than it really has. My child's self-worth may already be too wrapped up in getting an acceptance letter. I will attempt to lessen the fear rather than heighten it.

I will remain open to the possibility, however improbable, that my child has the most important things under control. I understand that my anxiety comes partly from a sense of impending loss. I can feel my child slipping away. Sometimes I hold on too tightly.

I realize that my child is almost ready to go. I will respect and encourage independence, even if some of it is expressed as resentment toward me. I will make suggestions with care and try to avoid unnecessary confrontation.

Paying for college is my responsibility. I will take a major role in the search for financial aid and scholarships and speak honestly to my child about the financial realities we face.

I must help my son or daughter take charge of the college search. I will try to support without smothering, encourage without annoying, and consult without controlling. The college search is too big to be handled alone - I will be there every step of the way.

In the spirit of this terrific advice, I have written a new article, What You Should Push Your Child to Do (and What You Shouldn't!).

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Senioritis: The Miracle Cure of Burnout, Other Student Disorders

Modern students are bred to run in a hamster wheel for 13 years, churning out A's and awards from Kindergarten to their Senior year.  It is hard to maintain perspective when students are used to believing that every school assignment determines their future.  And when Senior year finally hits, what used to be a final semester of wood shop, football, and partying has become a nightmare of AP tests, GPA points, and resume building.

It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, not only will a little Spring slacking not hurt students, it may actually help them.  They've already been accepted to college, so why not take it easy for the first time in years?

But, you cry, won't colleges revoke the admission of students who do poorly in their final semester?  Welcome to one of the biggest myths regarding college applications.  Only 35% of universities reverse admissions according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  One of the Deans of Admissions surveyed reports that he's revoked admission only eight times in 21 years.  So yes, it can happen. But it probably won't.

There's a very bright line between relaxing a bit and completely dropping out of school, of course.  Failing tests is bad, but cutting off studying to get into bed by 11 is fine.

Parents, ease off the reins a bit and encourage your son or daughter to study less and play more.  This is his or her last year of high school, after all, and he or she has a daunting few years ahead in college, and then a daunting lifelong career afterward.  Let them have fun now before they forget how. Students with admissions letters in hand are in the perfect position to finally stop being so focused on admissions, relax, and recuperate.  They should never be made to feel guilty about embracing the last few months of youth before college and adulthood.

Students, stop memorizing textbooks and mastering exams.  Take a breath, hang out with friends, and enjoy your final months of high school.  If you've never been to a high school football game, go to one.  Dance at your prom.  Don't grind, but rather stop and relax.  Appreciate the easier rhythm of the end of your pre-college life, and never think of these months as an academic slump, but rather as your chance to recharge and relearn how to have fun like you did outside of the SAT prep classroom.

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