Many high school students simply don't recognize the word "rejection." So, when a thin envelope arrived in Laura Budzyna's mailbox, she was shocked to discover she was on the waiting list at Williams College. "It had to be the one I wanted!" moans the class president and editor of the school newspaper at High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J.
Laura is hardly alone in her disappointment: Across the country, high school seniors are now checking to see if their mailboxes contain thick envelopes - usually bearing good news - or thin ones - often meaning rejection - from the colleges they applied to. When the response is negative, they face one of life's most difficult lessons - how not to take rejection personally and how to keep a positive attitude about Plan B.
"You just have to refocus and not let it be some huge failure. Because it's not really an attack on you," says Laura. "There are so many talented people - the competition is just absolutely insane."
Today it's not just the less desirable candidates who receive thin envelopes. With a greater number of students aiming for top schools, even the best struggle to find slots at their dream schools. "The college-age population is going up, and the percentage of that population who are choosing to go to college is going up," says Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges.
But even with increasing competition at both first- and second-tier schools, students tend to brave the admissions process from beginning to end with a surprising amountof strength. The negative responses do sting. But for most, the excitement of getting in somewhere else helps them shift toward thoughts of the future.
At Vanguard High School, a public school in Manhattan, Lai Ara Reagans applied to 10 schools and got into several, but the bad news from the State University of New York at Stony Brook left her wondering what went wrong.
"Of course it's going to be disappointing, especially if it's your top choice," she says. Longing to understand the decision, she called the admissions office and learned her SAT scores had not been strong enough. But Lai Ara was then able to get excited about studying sociology at the College of New Rochelle, where she was accepted.