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MISS SCHOOL MANNERS & the 30 Rejections

By asoglin
Thursday, October 18th, 2007 at 8:19 am in College Apps & Angst, Miss School Manners.

teacherDear Miss School Manners: Our neighborhood is buzzing about the girl who applied to 30 colleges and got into none. 30! 30!!! With odds like that, what chance does my kid have of getting in anywhere? Signed, Losing It In Lafayette

Dear Losing It: We would so like to tell you that’s an urban legend. But take a deep breath anyway. While it’s true it has become harder to get into elite universities, that’s not necessarily what happened to your unfortunate neighbor. So, first a word about the current college admissions climate. Then, some practical advice…
(Read more or write to Miss School Manners now)


What you’re seeing is a numbers game fueled by the largest number of college applicants in history – with no appreciable increase in the number of freshman slots available. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the number of high school graduates has been on a steady rise since 1996 and the US Department of Education says we won’t see those numbers falter until at least 2013. More international students are applying too. The Common Application (an online form that makes it easy to apply to multiple schools at once) means applicants who once submitted their academic credentials to 3 or 4 universities, now send it to a dozen or more with a swipe of their Visa card. And to top it all off, you’ve got the insidious pressure of the US News & World Report’s college rankings – the more students a college rejects, the more “selective” it appears. Boost the number of applicants and a school automatically becomes “more selective.” So after a childhood of being told you can be anything you want to be – Reach for the stars! If you believe it, you can be it! – we now have college recruiters adding their two cents: “If you don’t apply, you’ll never know if you were Ivy League material.”

Maybe so, but there’s a case to be made for realistic expectations. Middling grades and so-so SATs do not a Harvard scholar make, nor Brown, nor Yale, nor Claremont-McKenna, nor Stanford, nor Cal. Apply to 30 dream schools, and you face the very real potential of reaping 30 rejections. That’s a harsh blow for anyone, but especially for a starry-eyed high school senior.

So ignore the US News & World Report lists. Ignore those clueless fellow parents who keep chirping about “top tier” schools. And focus instead on what schools would be a good match for your teen. Tour campuses, gauge their offerings, and look at their incoming freshman profiles – most colleges list their incoming students’ average GPA and SAT on their web sites. Or check the CollegeBoard.com site.

Then have your senior compile a list of prospective schools – a few “reach” schools, because indeed, you don’t know if you don’t try; a few that feel like good fits, where their GPA and SAT match or slightly exceed those of their incoming class; and a set of “safeties,” schools that they’d be perfectly happy attending and that they are very certain would love to have them. Every school is becoming more selective, but you can hedge your bets by being realistic, doing your homework and not letting rosy visions or parental peer pressure – “My Johnny is applying to 30 top tier schools!” cloud your judgment.

Enough with those blasted Ivies, anyway. We’re compiling a list of the best overlooked colleges – great schools with wonderful programs and happy students. Nominate your favorite university by clicking “comments” and typing in a brief description. (There’s a new batch of college apps survival books on the market. Add your e-mail address – don’t worry, it won’t appear on your post – and we’ll send the first bunch of you a copy.)

- Miss School Manners

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No Responses to “MISS SCHOOL MANNERS & the 30 Rejections”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I think it’s tough, in today’s climate, but it would be great if kids (and their parents) could take a deep breath and realize there’s more to life than where you went to college. Education is only as good as what you do with it…

  2. jb Says:

    We love the University of the Pacific in Stockton – fantastic private college, small class sizes, caring faculty, gorgeous campus with an East Coast vibe (must be all those ivy-draped, brick buildings!). With one kid in a UC and another here, the differences could not be more startling.

  3. CL, Walnut Creek Says:

    Our learning-disabled son has attended CSU East Bay for 1 1/2 quarters and we are very pleased so far. Our son is the only kid from his Danville high school who chose CSUEB, so I think it may fall into your relatively-undiscovered schools category, at least for students on this side of the Tunnel. Or not, b/c enrollment there is up 20%, which may translate into difficulties getting classes down the line.

    Anyway, the classes are small and the counselors and professors are very approachable. Our son gets much more help than he ever got in high school. His major advisor spent 45 min going over a schedule modified to suit his learning disabilities. By way of contrast, I think my older son (at Cal) knows the name of his advisor (maybe).

  4. Julie Nickel Says:

    We live in CA and the writer who wrote to you about the difficulty of getting her child into a CA college was in no way exaggerating the complexities of today’s college climate. I do think your advice was very good, it IS however, very, very competitive here in CA. More so than any other state, due to our massive budget crisis in education. There are too many applicants and too few slots. We can literally almost send our son out of state for what it will cost to send our son IN state. (Except sadly, he wants to go instate) and realistically, we’d LIKE to HAVE him close by, instate. Please, might you send the book you referenced in your response to “Losing It” because I can totally “feel her pain.” Thanks!

  5. Julie Nickel Says:

    I do agree with MANY of the things you told “Losing It.” It was all very good advice. However, we here in CA DO face very difficult challenges getting our kids into college that I don’t think very many people in other states have to face at ALL. We have massive budget deficits, which in turn result in shortfalls every year trickling down into our educationsl systems at all levels, even at higher education. They can’t hire enough teachers, can’t expand campuses, and thus can no longer accept the number/volume of students applying each year, thus the enormous competition. It’s become ridiculous to the point of the extreme. I just don’t think people in other states have NEARLY the problems we hear in CA face getting our kids into colleges. And the expense? Ridiculous. We could literally send our child out of state for what we are going to be paying for instate (except he doesn’t want to go out of state) and frankly we would like to have him here as well.) It’s all crazy insane. Even those of us who know all that you told “Losing It” still find the process enormously frustrating. Please, might you pass on whatever booklet/information you referenced in your letter to her? I’d be extremely interested in learning more. Thanks so much.
    -Grateful in CA

  6. Jackie Says:

    Great idea, Julie. I’ll shoot a copy of “How to Survive Getting Your Kid Into College” by Hundreds of Happy Parents Who Did (A Hundreds of Heads publication) over to her. I’ve got a couple more copies too, if anyone else wants to weigh in.

  7. Susan Says:

    My son is a second year student at UC Santa Barbara and while it is not Cal or UCLA, he is very happy there. The party scene can be intense but for focused students they can just as easily avoid it. The academics are top notch and who can beat looking out onto the pacific ocean from your dorm room. I will say however, he applied to 10 schools and was rejected at 3 of them at a cost of over $500 just to apply. My daughter a high school senior is freaking out because she may not get into her top 2 schools Cal Poly and Claremont and the pressure is intense.

  8. aPARENTly Speaking Says:

    MISS SCHOOL MANNERS & Helicopter Parents

    Dear Miss School Manners: The college application paper chase has only just begun and already, I’m losing my mind. I want to make absolutely sure that my kid gets it all done … but if he can’t get it together…

  9. Patti Stein Says:

    JFK University is an excellent college and works with students to make this a real option. We have also been checking out UC Santa Cruz, which has much to offer and seems less competitive than some of the other UC campuses. My son is still set on attending UC Berkeley (my alma mater), but I don’t think it is the best place for freshmen. It is sad to see my son and his friends already feeling so much pressure to take AP classes or to take extra classes at the community college while still only in 10th grade. I’m very happy to hear that alternative schools are being suggested, and look forward to reading about some good possibilities.

  10. JL Says:

    My nomination for a great overlooked college: Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois. My kid loves it there — small classes, lots of involvement with professors who are there to teach, very warm and friendly atmosphere, very high educational quality. It’s not as pricey as a lot of private schools, and the financial aid is generous. Amtrak from Emeryville goes straight there!

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