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Articles / Applying to College / Fat And Skinny Emails

Fat And Skinny Emails

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | March 15, 2018

I've been following the various threads on the College Confidential discussion forum where seniors are holding their breath to get their admission decisions. I've done this every year since we began the forum back in 2001, and even before that on my own, independent forum, pre-CC. Of course, years ago I've held my breath along with my daughter and son, as they awaited their verdicts.

The range of reactions is always interesting. Some are, naturally, ecstatic. Others portray a muted sadness. And some are surprisingly casual upon seeing both good and less-than-good news.

For example, last evening I was watching the MIT forum. Decisions from that elite school came out at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time. There are pages and pages of comments, starting well before last night's moment of truth. I was especially interested to see how quickly the comments would appear, starting at 6:30.


The speed with which the post-6:30 comments appeared showed me how devoted these young men and women are to the CC forum. Their CC forum friends were likely among the first to know, maybe even before parents and siblings found out. For many of them, MIT was their clear first-choice school. Thus, this 6:30 reckoning was one of the most important of their young lives.

In some cases it was hard to tell the degree of impact the decision had, especially a negative outcome. A quick check of the MIT forum this morning revealed many more pages of posts. Each forum page holds 15 posts. The amazing thing I saw this morning was the unbroken streak of one-word posts that simply said, "rejected."

At one point, I recall counting about ten consecutive pages without a single "Accepted" post. That's 150 in a row, just in that one section.

The tone of these one-word posts is impossible to infer, but one poster who made two posts, right around 6:30 last evening, amused me. His/her first post seemed a bit groggy: "just woke up." Farther down the page, a second post appeared: "rejected. back to bed." That made me chuckle. So matter of fact. S/he must have expected that news.


Anyway, the remaining two weeks of this month are going to be a roller coaster for high school seniors everywhere, both here in America and around the world. The college application process can be a long, agonizing process. The actual application submission season traditionally stretches from November 1 to January 1, with a number of exceptions that can add days before and after that two-month window. Some schools have rolling admissions and others offer an elongated calendar that stretches into February, or even later in the year. Thus, many of you seniors have been under some level of stress and deadline pressure for some time.

Cheer up, though. Spring is just around the corner, just five days away, as of this writing. With the arrival of spring comes the arrival of admission decisions, as we've seen with MIT and some others. There's good news, disappointing news, and limbo news, as I mentioned last time.

The good news, of course, comes in the form of happy "thumbs up," welcoming you to some (or maybe even all) of your sought-after schools. The bad news, naturally, brings you thumbs down. Some of these southern-pointing thumbs can be terribly distressing, especially if you have rationalized a list of reasons extolling all the virtues your applications have trumpeted about yourself. Your detailed research may have revealed that you appear to be a perfect fit with past accepted applicants, as reported by those colleges of their Websites. When you come face to face with the reality of rejection, many times it's hard not to feel like you've had a punch in the stomach.

You've waited months for your answers, and now they're arriving ... skinny envelopes and/or disappointing email notifications. Not the answers you wanted or even expected.


Getting a rejection (sometimes more euphemistically referred to as a "denial") from a college or university doesn't make you a bad person. Unfortunately, some high school seniors see themselves in a less-than-positive light when they read the bad news from their highly desired institution(s). I have to wonder about the thoughts of all those who were denied ("rejected") by MIT last night.

Dealing with rejection is difficult. Most high schoolers take rejection on a personal level. They seem to think that the letter or email from the admission office is really saying something like, "You are deficient and we don't want to have anything to do with you." Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that often some rejected (denied) students could have done as well as those admitted applicants. Maybe even done better.

This isn't a rationalization or sour grapes. At schools where there are a significantly larger number of applications than available seats (schools whose acceptance rates are around 50 percent or less), there just isn't room for all the qualified applicants. That's why there is that so-called waitlist. As I've mentioned here before, a waitlist comprises a group of "in-betweeners," not accepted but not rejected, a limbo state. As I also mentioned, these applicants gain admission only if the number of enrollments doesn't meet expectations for the incoming freshman class. Talk about uncertainty!

You're going to know shortly all the outcomes from your various applications. Maybe you already have some good news about your Early Action applications, which you submitted in November. Now, as you await your remaining decisions that will be forthcoming in the coming weeks, you may be wondering, "Geez, what if I get into all the schools I applied to?" That's a fair question and prudent food for thought.


Having a pile of acceptances from schools you would love to attend can pose a problem. It's a happy problem, to be sure, but a difficult one, nonetheless.

Maybe you gained admission to your clear, first-choice college in December, through an EA application. Maybe, in your pile of acceptances, there is one that suits you perfectly, making all the others unnecessary. If so, no problem, assuming that you can manage the costs without going into heavy student loan debt.

What should you do, though, if you have three or four acceptances and none is a clear favorite? This happens more frequently than you might imagine. The solution to finding the right one lies in doing some careful review and consultation with your family. If considerations such as location, student body size, program offerings, and reputation are all about equal (and you detect no true preference stirring in your heart), then money has to be a major consideration. Financial aid packages usually arrive with the acceptance letters. Examine them carefully. Ignore the "sticker price" of the schools for a moment and go straight to the bottom line.

Which school's offer puts the smallest drain on your family's finances? Is there a clear winner now? If there's no other criterion for deciding, then money should help you decide. Don't forget that you can sometimes earn extra financial aid with just a phone call to the college's financial aid office and providing greater detail about your family's financial situation. After you have satisfied yourself that you have the best possible package, then decide.


However, I must mention again the peril of too many student loans. Currently in America, the average student loan debt for graduating college seniors is over $30,000. Think about how long it may take you to pay off that amount of money, assuming that you can find work that would allow you to budget a consistent and satisfactory monthly payment.

Remember, too, that you can make a quick campus visit between now and May 1, the traditional enrollment response deadline. Visits can sometimes sway the undecided. Please keep your parents involved in your decision. They maintain a large stake in your college education. Although most parents respect their child's decision on college selection, they can provide valuable perspective for that decision.

No matter where you end up going to college, compliment yourself on an admission process well done. And -- one more time (have I mentioned this already?) -- be careful about those student loans!


Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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