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Keeping Perspective in the College-Admissions Process

This time of year, high school hallways are filled with both jubilation and disappointment, as students learn which colleges have accepted or denied their applications. Many are fixated on a handful of elite schools as the key to a successful life, but the reality is there are thousands of college options.

So how do counselors suggest students handle rejection by their dream college?

"You need to grieve a little and then you need to focus on celebrating the schools you are admitted to," said Katy Murphy, the president of the National Association of College Admission Counseling and the director of counseling at Bellamine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif. "You need to move on and realize that the schools you were admitted to offer characteristics that should have been a match for you." 

Keep perspective on the process and explore a variety of pathways after graduation.

"Admission to a particular college is not the golden ticket," said Murphy. "Everybody thinks if you do this and this, you get a golden ticket, you are successful and you never have to worry about anything for the rest of your life." But Murphy assures students there are good professors who will inspire them on many campuses and it's more about what they do in college and the opportunities they seize. "A good college is determined by the students' individual characteristics and the fit not the name of it."

One mom in McLean, Va., who is a PTSA president at a high-achieving high school is making it her mission to get kids to think more broadly about where they apply to college and encourage parents to back off from pressuring students too much. The Washington Post had a story on Wilma Bowers Monday and her efforts to emphasize effort and attitude over grades, in hopes of getting families to keep an open mind about what it means for kids to be successful in college and beyond.

There are so many more qualified students than there are spots at top-ranked universities. An article Sunday in the Post gives a glimpse behind the scenes in the admissions process at George Washington University and is a good reminder of the subjective nature of the selection process.

Another article in the Huffington Post notes that it's important to explore other college choices and not be paralyzed by the rejection.

To look beyond the list of brand-name schools, the nonprofit organization Colleges That Change Lives encourages students to focus on what college is right for them and bypass the rankings frenzy. 

Even as many criticize rankings, students and families continue to be drawn to them. When it come to selecting among various offers, counselors urge students to take their time in making the final decision—until May 1, if needed and consider fit and tangible factors, such as cost and financial aid. It also might be worth a trip to the campus again to clarify the choice. (See, "What to Look for When Revisiting a College Campus.")

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