The letter I wish all highly selective colleges would write to students they deny admission.
As students receive college admission decisions, let us help them stay grounded in the reality that the process is not actually all about them.
Dear Corndog from Detroit:
It’s not you it’s us. You nailed your alumni interview and your essay’s opening about bearing a striking resemblance to a corndog at birth quickly coined your nickname in our admission office. Corndog, we wanted to admit you. You took the toughest courses available earning perfect grades, you aced the ACT—36, provided independence-offering technology to the blind, published a book of poetry and donated its proceeds to a literacy program for rural students.
Your teachers’ letters of recommendation made us want to meet you for lunch as it sounds like you elevate every conversation. And as a bonus you also can make an amazing Detroit style coney dog. The themes of your application were more on point than any English Pointer could ever hope to be. We loved it.
Solar Powered Pizza Ovens
Even so, we at Three Point Five Percent University cannot admit you. Institutional Need says that we are limited in the number of spaces which we can offer to male, Midwestern, tennis players interested in STEM, who want to minor in creative writing, worked as a snack shack cook, chaired fundraisers, tutored peers, won national awards in math, tried out for hockey senior year, are bilingual and who coordinated donations of solar powered pizza ovens to homeless communities. Although you have demonstrated prowess in all areas we value, and would add to multiple facets of our campus, we have to say no.
We suggest taking all materials from us and recycling them, although one of our students took great joy in watching his burn in a backyard bonfire. Stop following us on social media and leave admission forum threads. We do not deserve your continued interest.
Really, It is Institutional Need
Our decision did not change anything about you. You possess the drive to seemingly do anything. Maybe you will submit a transfer application to us next year. Whoops, probably too soon to mention that option, but we would at least love to have you on campus for graduate school someday. Sorry to send mixed messages, but obviously we want you here, even though Institutional Need said no. (We in the admission office hate Institutional Need, but to our boss we must defer.)
Our. Decision. Does. Not. Define. You.
Please remember that the college admission process is unfair, not solely based upon merit, and that you did all you could. You. Did. Everything. You. Could. My guess is that your parents did too in a sincere and supportive “We want what is best but we are not Aunt Becky” way.
Our Buckets Runneth Over
Although Covid-19 has altered all of our worlds, it did not impact how we made this round of admission decisions. As harsh as it sounds, the applicant who shares a name with a building on our campus was admitted over you. Recruited players for each of our athletic teams were admitted over you. We also target specific percentages of the class per geographic region, socioeconomic status, academic interests, and other criteria. Sometimes we talk about our institutional need as being divided into buckets. You helped fill some of our least filled buckets, but you also tipped a few others to overflowing. Our jobs depend on keeping the floor dry. So as you can see, it is not you it is us. Our needs do not match your profile. It is not personal.
We need to get over ourselves
If you are still reading, or your parents are, let’s get past the image of buckets splashing all over our office. Our culture puts about forty universities up on a pedestal and we, as part of that group, promote ourselves with randomly sourced rankings, among other marketing strategies, which our huge endowment allows for. But looking down from up here we realize that we are not any “better” than many other campuses. In fact we only contribute (generous average here) to 3.5 percent of the total number of American four year college graduates each year.
No employer will consider your college’s ranking although we benefit greatly from those lists because they keep our name popping up into “best college” searches. Are our students the “best” at finding their paths to happiness? Are they the “best” at being smart? Are they the “best” at warding off the coronavirus? As far as they know, maybe, but do we ask highly regarded and accomplished doctors where they went to college before we take their advice? I don’t. Do you?
In four years, our graduates will line up and join you at the threshold to the future. Spoiler Alert: Our graduates are going to have a tough time getting a job over you. Our decision has not devalued your worth.
We have no doubt that you will be successful. You already are highly regarded and accomplished. We feel lucky that you will be part of the generation making future decisions about our post pandemic world.
Thank you for the opportunity to read your application. Beyond never looking at a corndog the same way again, your efforts to help others, produce solutions, express yourself creatively, and go out for a sport you have not played for years, reminds us to keep the dream doors open as we focus on the future.
Do not empower our decision by doubting your abilities. It’s not you Corndog, it’s us, or rather that thing that drives college admission: Institutional Need. Our decision is our loss and your deposit choice’s gain.
Thank you in advance for all that you will continue to do in this unsettled time to inspire others to be at their best. When the Class of 2020 can be celebrated in person we will be both cheering and depending on you, Corndog. The best is yet to come.
Stay Well & Stay You:
~ Highly Selective College
PS: You may hear waitlisted friends talk about how we are using our waitlists as a “third round” of admission. Actually, Institutional Need doesn’t know what we will do with those applicants yet. Colleges are waiting to see which students deposit where, and then will do what best serves enrollment targets. It’s not about waitlisted students either of course because it’s always about Institutional Need.
©Eva McGregor Dodds