Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rejected: Making Plan B for Your College Education

Within in the next week or so, all colleges that don't use a rolling admissions process will have notified students of their application status for fall of 2009. For some, this will mean letters of acceptance, overwhelming relief, and giddy joy as they start planning the future at their dream colleges. Others, unfortunately, will receive letters of rejection, which bring with them deep disappointment, tough choices, and even panic.

Rejections hurts. Always. For high school seniors, most of whom have never had their lives and accomplishments subjected to such scrutiny, being turned down by a college (or colleges) can be downright devastating. Why wasn't I good enough? What should I have done differently? Why don't they want me?  

Sadly, these are questions that often can't be answered. And for the student whose college plans have been thrown into chaos and uncertainty by the receipt of a big fat "NO", it's not even worth it to consider the whys. Focus instead of moving forward and making the most of the opportunities you've got.

Ideally, you'll  have applied to a wide range of schools that fit your needs and goals and will be perfectly happy attending one of your other "best fit" or "safety" schools. But what if you didn't get into any schools you're willing to attend? Or what if you can't afford to go to the schools that did accept you? 

The first option many student jump to is the appeals process. Your rejection letter should include information on how to appeal the decision to deny your admission. While this route is tempting, it is rarely fruitful; in 2008, for example, the University of California at Santa Cruz received over 1,000 appeal letters from hopeful students. They accepted around 25 of these after taking a second look. Unless you have significant additional information to add to your application or there was an error in your high school transcript or application that is meaningful enough to make an admissions officer think twice about your rejection, composing appeals is rarely worth the effort. If you simply can't rest without feeling you've done everything possible to be accepted to your dream school, by all means go forward with the appeal; often, however, the energy an appeal takes is better channeled elsewhere. 

One good choice for the student who is unhappy with his/her options is to enroll in community college. Many community colleges (such as those in the UC and CSU systems) "feed" into the four-year college system. For example, if UC Santa Barbara is your dream school but you didn't quite make it in, consider attending Santa Barbara Community College (a beautiful campus, right on the beach), doing very well there, and transferring to UCSB for your junior and senior years. Community colleges are inexpensive, have highly qualified instructors in small class settings, and most have guaranteed admission arrangements with four-year schools in the state system for those who successfully complete transfer requirements. Some offer on-campus housing, and you'll be able to use the same financial aid you would have applied to the school that rejected you to pay your bills (and much lower bills they will be). In these times of economic hardship and increasingly tough admissions requirements, community college is often the best option for many students and their families. 

Another possibility to consider is taking a "gap year" or a "year on" (as opposed to a "year off"). The past few years have seen a huge increase in the number of programs available to young people who want to gain life experience, travel, and perform community service prior to entering college. While you pay the cost of most gap year programs, some, like AmeriCorps and CityYear, actually provide living stipends and a college scholarship at the conclusion of the program. While you're off on your gap year adventure, you can re-apply to colleges during the fall or spring application season. Colleges often look favorably upon applicants who have undertaken productive gap years, as students return from these experiences more mature, focused and prepared to be successful in higher education. Learn more about gap years.

As you develop a strategy for "Plan B," keep in mind that college costs: Both in dollars and in time. Think long and hard about whether it's really worth it to attend a four-year school where you will be less than happy. Ponder whether it might not be better to invest in other options (community college, gap years, work experience) that will ultimately lead to the college of your dreams. 

You can take many different roads and still wind up at the same place. 

2 comments:

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