College denials: when dreams meet reality


Emily Kinnaman

Credit: Carrie Coonan/The Foothill Dragon Press
Credit: Carrie Coonan/The Foothill Dragon Press

As the time for planning the 2015-16 school year approaches, Foothill seniors are receiving long-awaited letters from colleges they applied to. In some cases, students are happy to see their hard work paid off with acceptance, but in other cases students have to deal with denial.

Some Foothill seniors hope to attend Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities. Still, when the most elite schools have acceptance rates as low as five percent, even the best students have a small chance of being accepted.

Pressure to go to prestigious schools

Many students believe that there is unreasonable pressure put on some Foothill students to go to elite universities.

Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press
Credit: Jessie Snyder/The Foothill Dragon Press

Senior Jameson Mah believes that at Foothill “there’s definitely a lot of pressure [to go to prestigious schools], but I would say the pressure is not [on] the majority of people.”

“I would say among the ambitious kids, in those kinds of circles, there is a lot of pressure, but in terms of the general students at Foothill there’s not necessarily pressure,” he said. “There’s pressure to go to college and to succeed, but not necessarily to go Ivy League or the elite colleges. But definitely there’s a push to get into college, get good grades, and get into the UCs at least.”

Senior Maddy Offerman believes that there is pressure at Foothill to be accepted by elite universities.

“I think at Foothill, we all want to be successful, and we’re all passionate about school and we want to go to these top schools. So we’re kind of more obsessed with all these hard-to-get-into schools,” she said. “And I don’t know what it’s like at other high schools, but I think that we do kind of focus on like the top tier colleges.”

“I don’t really know where the pressure comes from, like if it’s from my peers, or I put it on myself, but I definitely feel like I should be going to Harvard or something,” she added.

Beginning freshman year in EDA class, Foothill students are encouraged to start thinking about colleges and their futures after high school; some of these students set their sights high on prestigious universities.

One freshman, Delaney Dillon, hopes to succeed in high school and attend an elite college. She said that Foothill has encouraged her to start thinking about college.

“I really want to get into BioScience, because then I can get into a really good college, and I really want to be a doctor,” she said excitedly.  “So I really want to go to like Cal Poly, UCLA, or UC Davis and I just really want to do like medical field stuff.”

Dillon believes that “if you work hard enough, you can pretty much get into any school.”

Another freshman, Jacqueline Fregoso, hopes to go to one of California’s top schools.

“I want to go to one of the Ivy League, prestigious universities like UC Berkeley, Stanford, one of those top universities, because my brother went to UC Berkeley and I just want to follow his footsteps,” she said. “And my dream is to become some sort of engineer, and yeah, just go into some kind of scientific field.”

Credit: Claire Stockdill/The Foothill Dragon Press
Many students at Foothill feel pressured to apply to prestigious universities and are devastated when they are not accepted. Credit: Claire Stockdill/The Foothill Dragon Press

College denial

While some freshmen have idyllic dreams to attend elite colleges, seniors, who have been through grueling AP classes and the SAT, know that such a goal is not easy. As the years go on, students realize the brutal competitiveness of college admissions, and their dreams of going to elite schools fade.

Denial is a part of the process of applying to colleges; and because many Foothill seniors apply to extremely selective schools, there is an even higher chance of denial.

Mah is valedictorian, played sports, and did robotics, among other extracurriculars. He applied early action to MIT and early decision to University of Pennsylvania. Both schools deferred his early applications to the regular round.

“It was somewhat of a disappointment, because it was so many hours and hours and hours of work,” Mah said. “[The hours of work was for] the applications alone, not necessarily the years of work.”

“But there’s still hope since I was deferred, at least I wasn’t rejected,” he added.

Mah said that his deferrals “made a frenzy of paranoia about the elite schools, that I applied to a lot of schools that I might not have applied to if I had gotten in somewhere. So I ended up applying to like 15 schools in the end, which is kind of a lot.”

Senior Benjamin Limpich shared his insight on college’s low acceptance rates and the application process.

“What’s been happening is that acceptance rates go down because more people apply to more colleges […] and that makes people get scared. It makes them apply to more colleges, which then makes the acceptance rates go down even more,” he said. “Which is great for colleges, but it makes students have to write more applications, it makes students more stressed out, and ultimately makes the decision and the process of college applications is that much more horrendous.”

Furthermore, the Common Application encourages students to apply to more schools. In 2000, only 12 percent applied to seven or more schools, but in 2011, 29 percent did.

Limpich experienced disappointment after being denied by Vassar College, which was originally his top choice.

“In the moment, it really stinks to get rejected from a college that you want to go to,” he said.

“Yeah, I’m the president of Speech and Debate, I’m the president of the PAAC, and I do three different tutoring programs, so I do a lot of things. So again, you know, it stinks a little bit. But everyone has their weak spots usually, whether it’s their essays, or their grades, or foreign language, or extracurriculars, or anything,” he added. “And I had my own [weak spots], which you know, it makes sense, like I can understand why I wasn’t accepted. It still stinks though because statistically speaking, it wasn’t a really big reach.”

So, should students apply to elite schools and risk disappointment, or not set their sights so high?

Fregoso believes that “[students] should set their goals, but not to like a point that it’s like unachievable.”

“[When goals are too high], [students can] feel like they’re a failure, like they haven’t achieved anything,” she added. “Like say if you want to go to Stanford, but you didn’t get accepted from Stanford, but instead went to Cal Poly, you feel like you’re going to be a failure if you didn’t get into Stanford, but Cal Poly is still a good school.”

Mah believes that students who apply to selective schools should find a balance between being hopeful and not placing all of their hope those schools.

“The pressure can be unhealthy, if that’s the only thing it gets for you is the end, and you don’t care about the means to the end, the path to get there or whatever,” he said. “[Getting into an elite college] can’t be the only thing that gives what they’ve done, the hard work they’ve put in, meaning, but it is obviously a reward for all that hard work.”

Credit: Michael Morales/The Foothill Dragon Press
Credit: Michael Morales/The Foothill Dragon Press

The SAT and ACT

Although most colleges consider students’ SAT or ACT scores when admitting future students, many people believe that these tests are not necessarily indicator of intelligence and college readiness. In fact, there is a direct correlation between a family’s income and higher SAT scores; those who are able to afford better study tools perform better.

“Some people are good at taking tests [like the SAT], but that doesn’t mean that you’re smart. But if you get a really good score on the SAT, you could be really smart, you could be good at taking tests, you could have just studied for it a lot,” senior Offerman said.  

“Like the more preparation you put into it, the better you do, but that doesn’t really mean anything about how smart you are, it just means you put more time into, which doesn’t really measure anything,” she added.

Limpich echoed Offerman’s feelings that the SAT and ACT are not always indicative of a person’s intelligence.

“The SAT and ACT are not a measure of intelligence. If you look at the statistics, people can study for the SAT and ACT, use prep books, go to camps, and it gets them a better score,” he said.

“A fish can swim down a river very easily, but if you ask a fish to climb up a tree, it’s going to have a very hard time. And that goes with the different types of intelligence,” he explained. “Some person may be very good at AP physics and they may be very good at doing the SAT or the ACT, and they score well. That doesn’t mean that someone who doesn’t isn’t intelligent; they can be intelligent in different ways.”

Despite the weaknesses of tests like the SAT and ACT, Offerman, Limpich, and Mah believe that the tests are currently the best system available.

“There’s not really a good way to measure a person as a whole; I don’t know how they could do it any better,” Offerman said.

“The scores are very contested, people think that they aren’t a reflection of intelligence or a reflection of how you’ll succeed, and that’s true too,” Mah said. “But there has to be some kind of metric, I think, to base it, otherwise the process would become very arbitrary.”

“I think you have to use some form of standardized testing because of grade inflation across the entire country,” Limpich said. “If you don’t have a test in order to calculate who’s going to have ‘college readiness,’ which is what the SAT and ACT do, then it’s very hard to base it off the varying different standards schools have.”

Credit: Lucy Knowles/The Foothill Dragon Press
Credit: Lucy Knowles/The Foothill Dragon Press

Dealing with college denial

Although being denied by a college is frustrating and disappointing, there are some lessons that can be learned.

For Mah, the possibility of being denied served as positive motivation to work hard through his senior year.

“In terms of not getting in, being deferred, I would say no, I would say [the chance of being rejected] motivated me to push a little harder,” he said. “If anything, it spurred me to try harder in school, to finish strong, knowing that it wasn’t over yet.”

After his deferral from UPenn and MIT, Mah learned that he was accepted into UC Berkeley early. The acceptance is not 100 percent official, but it is “guaranteed admission” because he is a candidate for a scholarship program.

Limpich believes that being denied by a college means that you aren’t meant to attend school there.

“I do believe in the idea that everyone is going to get into the college that they need to get into,” he said. “And after further research, I do think it might have been wrong for me to go to Vassar, and I think that the colleges I’m looking at now might be a better fit for me, it’s probably better that I got rejected.”

For students looking for a balance of applying to elite schools but not facing too many rejections, Mah says, “I think it’s reasonable [for good students to aim for prestigious schools], but not to make it the sole goal in mind. The overall goal should be to get an education.”

“The elite education on the undergrad level, I don’t think is a necessity,” he added. “I think [for] most of the Ivy Leagues the prestige comes from the graduate programs, and that on the undergrad level it’s just important to get that base, and that the elite schools don’t offer some life-changing benefit all the time, even though they are elite and prestigious.”

There is no doubt that the process of applying and either being accepted or denied by colleges is taxing for students; it takes lots of time, energy, and work. Still, going to college, no matter which one, is a worthy goal to work towards.

As Limpich said, “even though it’s a weird system, we just have to work with it.”

What do you think?