My condolences to you on your Stanford decision. This is a very trying time of year for the many accomplished students who are turned away from top-choice colleges for no apparent reason. But, frankly, "The Dean" thinks that your surprise is a little naive. Stanford is well known for its minuscule acceptance rates, and only its admission officers understand why one applicant is denied while another — perhaps with lower test scores or an underwhelming resume — is admitted. Sometimes, in fact, even the admission folks are perplexed by the outcomes! One official may lobby hard for a candidate but that candidate is rejected anyway. So it's possible that your regional admissions rep — or someone else behind those closed committee doors — was rooting for you but didn't prevail. Students who apply to Stanford — or to any of the other most sought-after institutions such as the Ivies and MIT — should do so with a thick skin and must approach the process as they might when purchasing a lottery ticket ... i.e., with a mindset that proclaims, "I've tossed my hat into the ring, but I'll need a lot of luck to win."
So now, what's next for you and what's a good fit? First think about why you believe that Stanford was the perfect match. Was it a specific major or academic program that's not widely offered? A professor whose research meshes with your own? Do you do your best work among other super-smart kids? Did you like the location and the weather? Are you seeking a place with rah-rah sports teams to support?
Try to list the reasons that you chose Stanford over its closest competitors and then look for other schools that share those traits. Be sure to include not only the most selective institutions, but also others that are sure to admit you. It's not uncommon for students who like Stanford and its mild weather, bustling campus and moderate size to also feel at home at places like Rice, Emory, Tulane, and U. of Miami, where merit aid may be available as well. If the weather isn't a big concern, add Northwestern to the list. If cheering on a Division I sports team isn't a priority, also consider Tufts, Washington University in St. Louis and Johns Hopkins. Note, however, that these schools range from Most Selective to Very Selective and shouldn't be viewed as "Safe" for anyone. Some, in fact, are known for denying well-qualified applicants who haven't shown sufficient interest, even when their grades and test scores surpass median ranges.
Students who were once also stuck on Stanford often find happiness at the "public Ivies" such as Michigan, UNC Chapel Hill, Georgia Tech, UVA and the College of William and Mary -- and also at well-regarded Calif. schools such as USC, UCLA, Berkeley and UC San Diego. Even the large, less-selective public universities have much to offer stellar students due to their long list of majors and atypical programs and the chance to be a star from the get-go.
I do sympathize with the sadness and frustration that you're feeling right now, and I hope it helps when I tell you that it probably won't take long for this pain to seem like ancient history. If you are good enough to be a contender at Stanford (and it certainly sounds as if you are), many other colleges and universities will welcome you. And, even with deadlines looming, you should be able to find new options that excite you.
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at email@example.com.
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