myUsearch blog

Honest college information — choose, apply, get into and pay for college.

What if You Don’t Get into Your Dream College?

May 05, 2010 By: Category: Get into College

Today we have a guest post from Karen Stabiner, the author of GETTING IN.

According to the people who market products, we are what we eat, the labels we wear, the cars we drive, the zip code we live in or want to live in, the cell phone model we prefer — and more and more, the college we dream of attending. That last “we” includes both parents and applicants, who can get swept away in the college admissions sweepstakes and lose sight of schools that might be a better fit.

One college counselor at a private prep school bemoans the fact that families show up for that first strategy session with identical lists of their ten favorite schools, even though the students in question are far from identical. Without even realizing it, necessarily, they’ve bought into the idea that acceptance at a short list of elite schools is proof that they’ve arrived. Anything less than an Ivy or Ivy-equivalent feels – and how weird is this? – like failure.

And yet, ask anyone who’s just survived the process and you may find an odd consensus: Acceptance at a school in your top twenty, top thirty, top fifty list starts to feel good fairly quickly if you have a shred of sanity left. I went through this with my own daughter three years ago, which led to my comic novel, Getting In, because once you’re done being exhausted and anxious and bewildered and finally happy, the only thing left is to laugh at it all and move on.

I recall with great delight how quickly families I knew embraced the philosophy behind the 1970 Stephen Stills song – “Love the One You’re With.” And while I might have had a little trouble with his situational approach to romance, his philosophy seems quite appropriate and proportional when you apply it to college admissions. What would you, all of you, on both sides of the generation gap, prefer to do: Agonize over being one of the zillions of people Harvard rejected, or celebrate the fact that Boston University, or Reed, or UC Davis, or Vanderbilt, or fill-in-the-blank, said yes?

When you’re on the brink of application season, it’s hard to take such an idea as anything but an insult, so let’s come at it from a different, and rarely-mentioned, direction. You’re you, all you seniors. That’s the one consistent truth in all of this. What you do once you get to school matters as much as your destination. The acceptance feels like the end because it took such effort, such hard work, but in fact it’s the starting line.

In the dark ages, when the parents who are reading this applied to school, half a dozen applications seemed excessive, because the narrative arc of life, at that point, tended to extend past college to the bigger question of what to do with the adult life that followed it. Today’s seniors might be happier if they took the long view. Take a chance and consider a school you might actually get into – because it feels right, because it offers things you’re interested in, because senior year in high school is the last time the whole family will be in residence, together, and that could be fun.

As long as we’re talking music, my big advice? Channel Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 musical riff on Meher Baba: “Don’t worry, be happy.”