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Articles / Applying to College / Play-Doh for The Soul

Dec. 6, 2016

Play-Doh for The Soul

If you're at all in touch with the college admission scene, you'll know that this is the week when many colleges come out with their decisions for their Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) applicants. The anticipation level reaches its peak this time every year for all those who have submitted their applications to a first-choice college back around November 1.

This anticipation level that rises also includes a large dose of pending hair-trigger depression, held in reserve in case the outcome of those decisions is anything less than “Congratulations!" There are two lesser outcomes: (1) Deferred, which means that the applicant's case has not yet been decided and will be bumped into consideration with those of the RD pool and judged in March or April. This is the more agonizing of the two outcomes because there is no closure one way or the other. Outcome #2, of course, contains a ton of closure: “Denied," or in more common parlance, “Rejected." This result, much more than the first, can open the floodgates of depression and despair, although being deferred can effect a kind of exquisite torture that leaves a high school senior dangling, twisting slowly in the winds of uncertainty.

Young people not getting what they want has been in the news quite a bit these days as a result of the presidential election. The weight of Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton has crushed many a young person's soul, it seems. Have you read about the lengths to which some colleges have gone to sooth the anguish of their students agonizing over Hillary's loss? If not, here are some insights:

Colleges Give Students Play-Doh, Coloring Books to Cope With Trump

For the vast majority of Americans, November 9 only differed from the week preceding it in the lack of political ads permeating their media. For many, it was a welcome end to months upon months of hateful rhetoric and horrible slanders.

On many college campuses, however, it wasn't the end of the campaign, but the beginning of Armaggedon or something.

At Yale University, supposedly one of the most elite institutions of higher learning in the country, an anonymous professor has decided to let students skip their midterms:

“I am getting many heartfelt notes from students who are in shock over the election returns," the professor wrote in an email to his students, according to Yale Daily News Managing Editor Jon Victor tweeted.

“The ones I find most upsetting are those who fear, rightly or wrongly, for their own families. These students are requesting that the exam be postponed. On the other hand, I am sure that many students have sacrificed to prepare for the test …Therefore, I am making the exam optional."

The professor told the class he would “calculate each student's grade both with and without" the exam.

Remember when asking a professor to postpone an exam for anything short of a natural disaster was grounds to be laughed at? Ah, good times. Good times.

However, that professor's decision was far from being the silliest example:

At Tufts University, arts and crafts were on offer. And the University of Kansas reminded students via social media of the therapy dogs available for comfort every other Wednesday.

Colleges nationwide scrambled to help students process Republican Donald Trump's stunning election victory. They're acknowledging that many students were up late watching results and so may not be at their sharpest in early-morning lectures. More so, they're responding to a widespread sense of shock and despair on campuses to the victory of a candidate who offended Mexicans, Gold Star mothers, Muslims and the disabled during the course of the campaign.


“People are frustrated, people are just really sad and shocked," said Trey Boynton, the director of multi-ethnic student affairs at the University of Michigan. “A lot of people are feeling like there has been a loss. We talked about grief today and about the loss of hope that this election would solidify the progress that was being made."

There was a steady flow of students entering Ms. Boynton's office Wednesday. They spent the day sprawled around the center, playing with Play-Doh and coloring in coloring books, as they sought comfort and distraction.

Play-Doh and coloring.

And they wonder why people don't take them seriously …

It's not necessary to be one of these types of students. You can be much more rational and realistic about your less-than-best-outcome situation.

Over the years here, I have offered a number of solutions for dealing with rejection (denials) and deferrals (purgatory). Here are some excerpts from my past prescriptions for perseverance:

My experience has shown me one thing for sure: There are no sure things. Much of life is a series of carefully — and sometimes not so carefully — considered ventures. Quick-and-dirty folk wisdom tells us to “Do our best and good things will happen." Sure, that's neat. Many of us, though, suffer an excess of after-the-fact self-criticism. “If only I had done [this] or [that], things would have been different." Those are words of torment. We can second-guess ourselves until the Mother Ship arrives, but it won't change reality.

The great composer Beethoven, when faced with inevitable deafness and an onslaught of physical ills, clenched his fist and proclaimed, “I will seize Fate by the throat!" And he did. He went on to tremendous things. I know, I know, you're not Beethoven. However, the message here for high schoolers considering the serious challenge of applying to selective (especially super-selective) colleges is that much of your likelihood for success lies not so much in winning a wrestling match with Fate as it does with creating a savvy plan.

Getting a rejection letter 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 a highly desired institution.

The truth is that in a lot of cases some rejected students could have done as well, if not better, than those who were accepted. This isn't a rationalization or sour grapes. At schools where there is a significantly larger number of applications than seats (schools whose acceptance rate is 50 percent or less), there just isn't room for all the qualified applicants. This fact is borne out by the so-called Wait List. A wait list is a group of “in-betweeners" who haven't been rejected but haven't been admitted. They will be offered admission if the number of enrollments doesn't meet expectations for the incoming freshman class.

Dealing with rejection is difficult. Take a little time to feel disappointed about not getting into your most-desired school(s). It's perfectly natural to feel bad. Don't dwell on it, though, and, by all means, don't develop an obsessive attitude about it. Don't hate that school from this moment on. Don't view successful candidates as elitist snobs. Accept the fact that you didn't make the cut–for whatever reason–and get on with your life.

Embrace those schools that have embraced you. Select the one that best suits your needs and prepare to have a great higher-education experience. Yes, indeed; there is life after rejection.

If you would like to share your feelings or merely read those of others who have also been denied, check out the College Confidential discussion forum. It's where the most interesting high schoolers, college students, and parents gather to share their wealth of experience and knowledge.

The Wall Street Journal's Sue Shellenbarger also has some encouraging words about rejection:

With a high-school senior and a college sophomore in my family, plus numerous family friends at the same stage, college admissions decisions have been a hot topic in our lives for several years. Watching teens I know react to being admitted or denied, I sometimes wonder whether rejection letters carry too much weight with today's kids.

Rejected by a prestigious university, a neighbor's daughter cried inconsolably for hours. One father told me he that he, his wife and their daughter were all discouraged for weeks when six of their daughter's seven target schools rejected her. Another teen shared a rejection letter from a private liberal-arts college, which asserted that officials had completed a “holistic review" of his application and emphasized over and over that his merits had been examined in every possible way. His response: “I guess that means I've been holistically rejected."

Such scenes are playing out more often this year, as reported in today's “Work & Family" column. Many members of this spring's record-large U.S. high-school class of 2009 applied to a longer list of colleges than ever – about 8 to 12 per student, estimates Seth Allen, president of the Common Application, a nonprofit group of about 350 colleges and universities, and dean of admissions at Grinnell College.

Some critics say today's kids have never learned to deal with rejection. “This is a generation of kids where everyone on the soccer team gets a trophy. You show up and you're rewarded," one admissions dean says. A college denial letter may be the first significant rejection the teen has received.

At least one other factor is at work, in my opinion: A change in the admission process. As college applications have become more competitive, colleges have coached applicants to include more personal stories, more markers of individuality, more evidence of heartfelt desire, to help their application stand out among tens of thousands. Many kids respond by pouring themselves “heart and soul" into their applications, as one teen told me.

“Colleges tell you not to take their decisions personally," says Isaac Chambers, 17, Champaign, Ill. “Yet throughout the whole admissions process, they tell you to make your application personal and pour out your life stories to them. It's easy to feel like you failed."

Fortunately, kids can take refuge in humor. At Palo Alto High School, in Palo Alto, Calif., seniors posted 113 denial letters on “The Rejection Wall," including some spoofs crafted by students, says senior class president Becky Byler. Sharing their disappointment helped kids lighten up and regain perspective. “Despite the harsh words written, a rejection letter doesn't change our overall worth or abilities," she says.

Indeed, this can be a difficult, stressful period in your young life. However, if you did not get the result you were looking for this December, come spring, after all your college admissions dust has settled, look at all your results. Then, as I suggested above, embrace those schools that have embraced you. Select the one that best suits your needs on as many levels as possible and prepare to have a great higher-education experience. Yes, there is life after rejection.


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

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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