Updated: March 8, 2014 6:19AM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
My application has been rejected by several top colleges and I am upset.
I have a 4.250 GPA, 2,100 on the SAT, and ranked fifth in my class. I have yet to hear from schools in the Ivy League, which are even harder to gain admission to. I will probably end up going to the University of Michigan, which is my safety school.
My question is, what did I do wrong?
Signed: A very upset student
College acceptances are beginning to come in for high school seniors and along with the joy of acceptance come the tears of the rejected. I receive a number of emails each year asking the same question: Why was I rejected? I can see why you are confused and wondering what more you could have done.
First of all, do not despair, the University of Michigan is a top college. With a 35 percent admissions rate it ranks among the elite colleges in the world, offering outstanding programs in business, economics, biology, English, mechanical engineering, political science and psychology. It also has a four-year graduation rate of 75 percent, something to think about if financial considerations are important.
While you did well in school on the basis of your grades and test scores, this represents only a small fraction of accomplishment compared to students from around the world who are competing for the few slots at premiere colleges and universities.
Remember that your GPA performance was measured against the small, insular world of your high school classmates. The quality of your application essays and your extra-curricular activities are taken into consideration along with your grades and test scores.
When you apply to college you are competing against a much wider spectrum of students, a global composite with resumes of achievement approaching near perfection. There are students with firsts in everything, and that is only the beginning.
Compared to other students, those admitted to the top colleges seem to have a deeper dimension in the quality of their personal accomplishments.
These students have a profound level of maturity, competence and confidence that separates them from other students.
I’m often asked what distinguishes the freshmen at Harvard from the freshmen at other top schools. Without hesitation I would chose the word competence.
Throw a job at them on the first day of class and they need little or no instruction on how to accomplish it and do it well. In interviews and in their written composition they exude an aura of confidence and competence.
If you do not get your top college choice there are alternatives. Many state schools have honors programs that have smaller classes and more access to top professors.
Since a career is your eventual goal, make sure that you are taking advantage of everything the University of Michigan has to offer. Many of these programs offer scholarships, which will help you financially.
All is not lost — your college experience is what you make it and opportunities abound if you keep your eyes open.