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Whether you’re accepted to your top school, waitlisted, or having doubts, here’s how to deal, and what to consider, for each scenario. Here are three important mindset mantras:

  1. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
  2. College is What You Make it
  3. Doubts Happen

 Don’t Beat Yourself Up

If you got rejected or waitlisted from your dream school, you may be thinking: Why didn’t I study harder? Why didn’t I prepare for the SATs more? Why didn’t I take that AP course? However, I want to point out that there are a million valid reasons why you did not do each of those things.

You and I, we are not superhuman. We have other priorities in life that are more important than becoming a slave to schoolwork and the SATs or ACTs. For instance, taking care of yourself should always be a main priority. Some nights you need to go to bed early instead of adding another hour of studying. Some nights you need to relax and hang out with your friends instead of getting a head start on that next paper. Other times you may have a sports practice, student council meeting or work that prevents you from dedicating all the time in the world to studying. These are healthy priorities. It could become unhealthy and concerning if your only focus in life were to form the best college application out there.

Applying to college is an accomplishment within itself, so kudos to you for wanting to pursue a higher level of education. A rejection letter or wait-list notification does not define you or your intellectual abilities. Maybe those schools aren’t even the right fit, so trust the process. (Please tell me there is a Sixers fan somewhere reading this).

College Is What You Make It

Accepting the reality of not getting into your top school or not being able to financially afford your favorite school is challenging. It is okay to grieve the loss of this plan you had in mind, but try to remain positive. Simply put, college is what you make it. Students who have an open mind and are involved on campus truly enjoy the experience, even if the school they attend was not their first choice. See chapter 18, “Get Involved…but Not Too Involved” to figure out how to navigate all the opportunities your school has to offer.

No school is going to paint the perfect college experience for you. It is impossible for a few buildings with a sign that says “Blah Blah College” to accomplish all your hopes and wants. College is an experience, not a destination. You form a positive experience through interacting with new people and investing time and effort in your campus. Old folks reflect on “college glory days” because of the people they met and the memories they made. College isn’t the good old days because someone got accepted to their dream school.

What you put in is what you get out. If you are miserable on move-in day because you had your mind set on another institution, then chances are you are going to be miserable for quite awhile. It is important to note that nerves and homesickness are normal feelings that will likely improve with time. Chapter 5 offers ways to combat homesickness. Nevertheless, if you keep an open mind about making the school your own and your home, you will find it easier to make friends, enjoy your classes and get better acquainted with the college.

Doubts Happen

Give the schools you are considering more than one chance. Here’s a personal anecdote to show you that a making a huge decision, such as which college to attend, is not always plain and simple.

(Don’t try this at home): I visited two schools five times EACH, before choosing which college I was going to attend. Yes, you read that right. That is ten college visits between two schools…. Not to mention the other universities I toured. Bless my parents’ and siblings’ souls for accompanying me on those visits. Anyway, you might think I am crazy, but I learned something very important on the multitude of visits.

I discovered that the perfect school does not exist. You can pick any place apart and point out countless drawbacks and cons. A college becomes a home only when you make it your own. When you get involved in activities that you love, you begin meeting people with similar interests and priorities, which make it an enjoyable environment. So remain patient if you did not experience love at first sight with your school.

It is normal for your mind to wander into the thought, “what if I chose another school?” Those thoughts may pop into your head frequently during the transition from high school to college. Lean on your friends and family who can talk you through these nerves and be patient with the adjustment. If you are truly unhappy and considering transferring, chapter 28 can help you decipher what path to take.

Let’s revisit my journey of picking which college I wanted to attend. After my 500 visit days (sarcastic number estimate that is not unfortunately not too far off), I finally had to sit alone with my thoughts. Which college could I picture myself attending more? Which school has the best program for my major? Can my family and I take on those financial loans? Is this school too far from home? Is that school too close to home? I was overwhelmed.

Everyone told me to write a pro and con list for each school. I rolled my eyes and laughed at my guidance counselors and family when they suggested that option. Then I tried it and realized it is actually a solid idea. Emotions get jumbled when you try to rack your brain for the answers, so writing your thoughts down on good old pen and paper help. I suggest you try it if you are torn between a few schools.

The moment that I knew which school I wanted to attend was when I truly examined how I felt as a visitor on each campus. I realized that at La Salle University, my school, I felt important as a visitor. People genuinely cared about my interest in the university. Students spoke with enthusiasm and passion about their campus. Faculty took the time to introduce themselves and help me understand what the school can offer. Overall, I got the sense that everyone was happy to be there. This academically and emotionally supportive environment led me to choose La Salle.

So when you have doubts, try to remember that no school is the perfect school and that you have power and control over your experience. The months leading up to college probably evoke a sweaty mixture of fear, nerves, and excitement. Embrace those feelings because they are to be expected of such a monumental life change. This book, the Freshman Survival Guide, is a resource to help alleviate those feelings of the unknown college beast. You can also reach out via the “ask the iRA” section of this website for more personalized assistance. Personal questions can go to ra@nullthefreshmansurvivalguide.com or public questions can be made in the comment section of any blog.

As you face these stressful months of acceptance letters or rejection notifications and the soon to be decision deadline, remember:

  1. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
  2. College is What You Make it.
  3. Doubts Happen

The team over here at The Freshman Survival Guide is rooting for you and hope you find your home away from home.

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If this is your senior year, February is about when you start hearing back from all the colleges you’ve been applying to this year. Understanding what these letters from colleges mean can help you make an easier transition into your freshman year.

If you’re accepted into a college, you usually get a big package from them. This can sometimes include university memorabilia, but will definitely include information about the school, how you can register for orientation, signing up for housing, and so on. At first glance it might seem like a lot of information but it is all very important so make sure to pay attention. Most notably, many colleges require you to accept your place there by a certain date. If you are still waiting to hear from other colleges, you are under no obligation to respond immediately. Make sure you write this date down on your calendar however, because if you don’t respond by then you will often lose your spot.

If you’re rejected from a college, it’s tempting to be devastated. While it is okay to be upset, don’t take it too hard. Sometimes this just means you and the college are not a good fit together, and you should look at this as an opportunity to find a college that more closely matches what you are interested in. Look at the college carefully and think about what inspired you to apply, and use that information to help narrow down other colleges that you’re thinking of applying to. If the college provided information about why specifically they didn’t choose your application, use that to shape your application for the future.

A third option you will receive from a college is a wait list notice. This means that the college is interested in you, but might not have any more available spaces. Remember we talked about that date you have to let colleges know if you accept your place by? This is how people move up the waitlist; as people turn down their spots, people on the wait list are offered the position. You should plan, however, to attend a different college. Accept your place, and follow their instructions to begin planning to attend for your freshman year. If your wait-listed college ends up accepting you, you can decide to attend there instead. This way, you have a secured place and aren’t left in the lurch if you don’t get accepted. There are many ways to improve your chances on the wait list as well. Follow the instructions in your letter; contact the university to find out where you are on the list; and update them on major changes in your academic status, such as improved test scores, additional classes, and financial aid needs. Contact an admissions counselor at the school and ask for advice. They help students all the time, so they are well-equipped to answer any of your questions.

The last question that often plagues high school seniors is the inevitable “What If?” questions. What if your friends all get accepted to your top university and you don’t? In your senior year, this can seem devastating. You now face the possibility of having to find a whole new group of friends, going to a new place by yourself, and losing contact with your old friends. Going to a different school doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your friendship. Technology has progressed to the point where you can see your friends across the country through Skype or Facetime; we have text messaging, instant messaging, even apps that connect you instantly! While it will take a bit more work, your friendship can grow even stronger if you apply the effort.

The college application process is the first step toward the next important part of your life. With careful planning, you can make the right decisions for you without becoming totally overwhelmed. Remember that your parents, guidance counselors, university admissions counselors, and college recruiters are all there to help you. Make sure you take full advantage of these resources by asking as many questions as you need answered. You can do this!