Why Did I Get Rejected?

We have gotten hundreds—approaching thousands—of emails and calls in the past week. Early decision has come out and people don’t understand why they were deferred or rejected. Our students did phenomenally well, but it seems, as we predicted, that more people than ever are getting turned away. This makes sense. School’s haven’t increased the number of kids they accept while applicant pools have expanded exponentially. It’s incredibly hard to get in. And people don’t like that.

Getting rejected hurts. When your hopes are that high, you may actually find yourself going through some of the stages of grief. So, once you’ve arrived at “acceptance” and you’re really ready to take a good look in the mirror, you can start to reflect upon what actually happened. Until then, take a breath and remember that life does go on.   

The First Possibility  

The first thing you should note is that it’s entirely possible that it’s not you, it’s them. Applying to college is a bit like investing. We make decisions and leverage a certain amount of risk based on past performance. We make sure all elements of our portfolios, from scores to grades, are well-manicured and double-check that we’re investing in a school that has a good chance of panning out. But, just like the market, there’s no way to truly predict what’s going to happen in the end. Markets rise and fall, and applicant pools change year-to-year. It could be that you just entered the market during a downturn and that this year just wasn’t right for you. If that’s the case, it’s time to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and keep going. So, if you’re scores and grades fell into the median range of your desired school, you were a leader in organizations, you developed a clear niche for yourself through activities and academics, and had great essays, then trust that there was nothing wrong with your presentation. You just weren’t so lucky. Keep going.   

The Worst Possibility  

Then there’s the likelier outcome…you never should have applied to the rejecting school in the first place.

It’s not just about being the total package. It’s also about being the right fit. There is a culture of exceptionalism in this country. American students are told by their parents and by society that they are one-of-a-kind. We are taught by history that if they just work really hard, we can have anything they want, a sentiment that is reinforced by parents and Instagram. Positive reinforcement is valid, to a degree. Dreams are attainable, and we should all work our tails off to achieve them. But the sad truth is that The American college dream ain’t what it once was. In our parents’ generation, kids could work hard in school, participate in a sport, buy an SAT book, practice once or twice before the exam, and expect to get into a great school all while enjoying a robust social life. When Harvard was first built if you were a rich white man who lived in the vicinity you went. They didn’t have an acceptance rate south of 5%.

Nowadays, kids who can afford to spend months prepping with private tutors for the SAT, on top of starting their own companies, taking all AP classes available to them, struggle to get in. That’s because colleges have the same seats available to applicants they did years ago in spite of the fact that applications increase a significant amount each year.

No school system is more impossible to penetrate than the Ivy League.

Take Stanford. Last year, 47,000 students applied. About 2,000 were admitted. The middle 50% of applicants got between a 32 and 35 on the ACT. That’s the middle. That means a significant amount of accepted students got perfect scores. But they didn’t just have perfect scores. They also had interesting extra curriculars and stories to tell.  

All schools, but especially the Ivies, are looking for exceptional kids. We mean, truly exceptional kids. Kids who blow us out of the water. This is where proper guidance comes in. Our kids don’t apply willy-nilly. They also don’t get rejected at the rates others do. That’s because we not only help them find the right match for them, considering scores, and all aspects of the application, but we also strategize their applications. With acceptance rates of less than 10%, it's no longer viable to try your best, do your homework, study, and pass. In order to be an exceptional applicant, you have to develop a compelling narrative and an interesting niche.

And if you got rejected, we’re sorry you’re going through this. We truly are. The system as it is isn’t fair and it can be absolutely soul crushing to get rejected. But you will become stronger and more resilient because of it, we promise.


Need help with your application portfolio? Reach out to us. We provide students with the guidance they need to develop exceptional applications.