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Admission decisions: U.S. colleges

U.S. colleges have started to send out their admission decisions. As is the case each year, the competition at highly selective schools has been very intense and the admit rates are low (although early results indicate that UCC students have done very well). Most top U.S. colleges had a record number of applicants this year. So…if you received an offer, consider yourself very fortunate!

You should respond to the offer from your chosen college as soon as possible and certainly by the Common Reply Date of May 1st. Remember to notify other universities that have offered you a place of your decision to go elsewhere. It is very much against the rules to accept more than one U.S. college offer in order to allow yourself extra time to decide. Admission officers from different colleges speak to one another; the usual response to what is called “double depositing” is for both colleges to withdraw the offers they have already made.

It is very disappointing to have invested all the time and effort that selective university applications require only to have the process end unsuccessfully. If it is any consolation, colleges are quick to point out that most rejected applicants have excellent qualifications and are of the calibre that these institutions seek to enrol. The difficulty is limited space. Top colleges routinely reject thousands of students who stood first in their high school class.

Sometimes applicants not offered admission automatically assume that there are specific deficiencies or faults in their application when in fact that simply isn’t the case. The Dean of Admission at Princeton University provides useful advice: “You should realize that in applying to a college with more qualified applicants than there are places available in the freshman class, there will be some factors affecting the ultimate decision on your application (primarily, the number and nature of all the other applications) over which you have no control and for which you should not feel responsible.”

The outcomes of the selection process at competitive universities do not always make sense to outsiders, since the decisions are reached by distinct groups of individuals at autonomous institutions that have their own needs and priorities. Many in the U.S. college admission community make reference to the “black box”— a mysterious contraption into which a consistent set of ingredients is inserted at one end, but which produces widely varying results at the other. Obviously this analogy doesn’t provide much solace to those for whom the product is a letter of denial, but it does indicate that applicants should not assume either logic or consistency in the decisions that colleges make. A research study at one college, in fact, found that if admission decisions had been made a week later, up to a quarter of the offers might have gone to different students. As one dean at the University of Southern California writes, “there is a qualitative component that makes getting admitted to college much more subjective than most students and parents realize.”

While admission decisions may seem devastating in the short run, you should try to keep a balanced perspective and realize that your future is ultimately determined by the kind of person you are and the effort you put into your education, not where you go to school. As the dean of admissions at Bowdoin College points out, “Where we went to college does not set us up for success or keep us away from it.”

Offers of financial aid are usually sent out with acceptances. Exceptions occur when colleges have not been able to obtain enough information before the notification date to allow them to make a decision on the size of an aid package. If this has happened to you, contact the financial aid office at the college you want to attend in order to find out when figures will be available. Extensions to the May 1st reply date are possible for accepted candidates who have not yet received financial aid information.

Unlike admission decisions, offers of financial aid may be appealed and reviewed. If you don’t receive any offer of assistance, or too small a one to enable you to attend, contact the financial aid office of your preferred college and state your case. But be aware that changes will occur only if your parents can provide information that the colleges have not already considered (for example, updated tax forms). Exceptions to this rule are occasionally made in the case of recruited athletes for whom two or more colleges are competing.