After Colleges Accept You

A Few Words of Advice from Jeffrey Brenzel, Dean of Admissions, 2005-2013, Yale Class of 1975

It’s likely that if you are reading this message, you are looking to apply to Yale, perhaps looking for a clue in my words to how to increase your chances of admission. Actually, you can find what we have to say about making a good application elsewhere on our website, and I have nothing to add on that subject.

However, while you’re here, I think I may be able to offer you a few unconventional thoughts about admissions by pointing you down the road past the admissions process to the date when you will be holding admissions offers in your hands, whether from Yale or other great colleges.

I say “other great colleges” for a reason. If you are in fact a realistic applicant for Yale, it is virtually certain that you are going to be admitted to a number of strong, quite selective colleges. After all, we are all looking for students like you, with talent, achievement, and high aspirations. If you happen to be in the midst of the application process right now, you may be anxious about where you will be admitted. You may feel as if everything depends on which colleges admit you, or whether a certain one does.

After years of experience, however, here is what I know, virtually to the point of certainty: almost nothing depends on exactly which strong college admits you. Everything depends on what you decide to do once you get to a strong college, and how well prepared you are to take advantage of the infinite opportunities you will find there.

So to provide some truly useful guidance to you, I’m going to ask you to focus for a moment, not on the application process, but on your eventual decision process.

  1. As responses come back to you from colleges, you will tend to dwell on the rejections, should you get some. It’s only natural – what you didn’t get and can’t have feels suddenly infinitely more valuable than what you did get and can have. You will be tempted to waste valuable time pondering what you could have done differently to be accepted by this or that school. You may be tempted to appeal the decision, if you had a “dream” school that didn’t come through. But there is only one good answer to make to any thin envelope you may receive: “Your loss, baby.” Then move to step two.
  2. After all the agony of narrowing down your list of applications, the universe does the final winnowing for you. Be grateful, because the outcome is wonderful: you will now be looking at a handful of admission tickets to the greatest shows on earth. Every one of your colleges has vastly more opportunities to offer than you could pursue in a lifetime. At one of these places you are going to take friendship to a new level, go adventuring and exploring to your heart’s content, make your own decisions about what to do and how to do it, lay the groundwork for your adult life, perhaps develop a permanent intellectual interest or personal mission. Put the acceptance letters up on your wall. Take a day or two to recognize how profoundly fortunate you are to be in your situation and to be presented with opportunities that most of your peers around the country and the world would give virtually anything in their possession to experience.
  3. To the extent humanly possible wipe out every assumption you have made up to this point about the schools that have now offered you admission. Let there be no reaches, good fits or safeties. Throw away U.S. News and World Report. Stop obsessing over selectivity or prestige. You now know more – a LOT more – about colleges than you knew when you first visited any of these places. You will start getting calls from admissions offices and students who go to these schools. The bulletin boards, Facebook sites, and admitted students websites will light up with all kinds of people who actually attend these places. Treat all of this as a brand new enterprise and do not be hasty about putting ANY of your choices aside. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a student say, “I wish I had looked more closely at the schools where I was accepted. I wish I had talked to more students who went to those schools and more students who went to the school I actually picked. I really had no idea what the others had to offer because I was blinded by what I thought I knew about what I thought was my first choice school.”
  4. Most important step. If you POSSIBLY CAN, visit the schools that accepted you, even if you have visited them already. Let me repeat this. Go back for another visit. Remember, you know a lot more than you did a year ago. And now it is for real. Act like you have never been there before. You will be amazed at how some of the schools have changed since you first visited. Why? Because you have changed and you are changing now that you have your admission offers in hand.  When you visit, try to avoid finding reasons not to like the school – things that turn you off. Instead, try the much more useful exercise of trying to picture yourself there as a student, thriving and enjoying both the educational opportunities and the campus scene. This may involve picturing yourself in some new ways. This is a good thing.
  5. Do something that is very hard to do, and that I actually do not advise doing so much during the period before students receive their offers. Ask your mother, father and/or guardian what they truly think about the schools that have admitted you. Insist that they be specific about their impressions and weigh what they say in the light of what you know about their sense of judgment. Why do this? First, they care about you and may know you in ways you don’t know yourself.  Second, they have often been paying very close attention to what they observe, about you and about the schools. Third, they are going to be paying or helping to pay for this. Make it clear that you would like to make up your own mind. Make it clear that you may view certain things differently than they do. But ask them, listen to what they have to say, and weigh it carefully against what you think yourself.  (You may need to call a physician to revive them if you follow this piece of advice. Most parents will be quite surprised if a son or daughter approaches them directly, asks them to provide a detailed rundown of exactly what they think and why, then listens to them carefully. By doing this, you also save them, and yourself, the agony of their trying to communicate their views by subtle hints, bizarre facial expressions, comments to relatives in your presence, or desperate pleas.)

If you can follow these steps and hold off the rush to judgment, you may be very surprised to find yourself strongly considering a school you would not have originally put at the top of your list. And if instead, you end up confirming your first choice after all, you will have only done so after giving it a very sober examination in light of the competition. This is not only healthy, but it is going to make you much more knowledgeable and realistic about what to expect when you arrive on campus. Remember above all else that no college is going to be paradise, and that all colleges have something outstanding to offer you.

Good luck with your applications, good luck with your decision, and most of all, good luck engaging the fantastic college opportunities that are waiting for you.