Part I of III Sorry this is long but some posters have pm’d me about our story and I thought it would be of help to re-tell it.
One year ago I posted a question here on CC “We’re Picking up the Pieces but what went wrong?” My son had applied to eight schools, been rejected at five and waitlisted at three. I expected to get a few responses and see the thread disappear deep into the archives of CC. Little did I imagine that one year later, not only would I still be posting about the progress, but an entire cyber family on College Confidential would still be going through it with me.
For the benefit of those of you starting out on college applications, or hopefully not-- for those of you who may find yourselves in our position, this is the story of one kid’s worst case scenario and how he made the best of it. I’m re-telling it here by way of my own original posts and those of other CC posters whose advice was so vital to the journey.
After this post I argued. I can admit it now. She was correct.
For new readers- some of you may be wondering if there were bad recommendations, a poorly written essay or some other hidden problem. We eventually got all the recommendations and read them- they were excellent. I had a couple of CC readers read his essay. They commented that it was well written but perhaps too academic and not revealing enough about his personality. The essay may not have helped him, but it didnt hurt him either. From all we could find- there were not glaring weaknesses.
Mental Health advice! This post by Blossom kept me on track emotionally.
post mortem was completed and work was begun to approach the waitlists. We responded affirmatively to all three wait lists and put a lot of effort into one of them in particular. We and many posters on CC held our breath while the weeks went by until finally in June, the last rejection came in.
My son pursued one waitlist passionately and relentlessly and the other two less so. Unfortunately it was a year in which many schools took only a few students off the lists. It didnt work. By June 15th the final letter of rejection had arrived.
Hanging on to the wait lists as he did, made it difficult for my son and me to move on. As long as we believed there was a shred of hope, we couldnt get into the mind-set of pursuing a gap year.
planning a gap year
Armed with information on the shortcomings of our original list we began the process over - from scratch. At the same time we planned a gap year that fit with my sons interests and our budget.
We did stay optimistic MOST of the time. Thanks goes to a couple of CC posters who put up with some rants via pms.
Next came the planning of the Gap Year. Many good suggestions on gap years were posted on CC! A lot of great ideas for travel, volunteer work etc. But this comes down to personal choices and circumstances. In our case there were a couple of factors that came into play for the overall plan. One was that he wanted to stay very involved with the piano throughout the year and the other was finances. At first we were thinking along the lines of a single major activity that would last the year. However, he ended up doing exactly the opposite. He put together activities based on his main goals and from there the year took on a life of its own. As he got involved with activities he made new connections and new opportunities just kept coming up. His main directions were studying piano; studying science and earning money to travel the following summer and help with expenses and doing some volunteer work. He began taking lessons from a new teacher, on a college level, with a goal of doing a solo recital in the spring. From here, he was invited to participate in some recitals at the university where the professor taught. Then he was asked to be a piano teacher himself at a local music school. He worked up to teaching 8 students. He established himself as an accompanist which lead to performing with a choir at a state univ., with a childrens choir at a church, with a high school choir that eventually invited him to tour with them to Armenia! They performed in many places in Yerevan and visited several orphanages where they donated clothing and toys to the children. He was also involved in accompanying for a wonderful organization that supports children of color in learning classical music. What Im trying to illustrate here is that he didnt plan all these things out in August. He worked hard at what he did and got to know people and this opened doors for him along the way. Some of his goals overlapped for example his volunteer work was connected to his music.
He worked at Starbucks for five months but soon he was making enough money from his music activities that he didnt have time/need for that any more. And he was not unhappy to give up those 4 a.m. days
He also applied for a special student status at MIT where he studied science. He took a few courses of interest to him, while commuting from home. His involvement with the university also enabled him to attend some interesting seminars.
Hes having a grand time and its not over yet. He just put on the recital that he worked toward. It was a fantastic occasion and became a sort of celebration of his finishing the college process and the culmination of all his practicing. He just bought the plane ticket for his bike trip this summer in France.
For someone who likes structure, this gap year probably wouldnt be the best thing. But, it worked for him. Within the family it meant a kind of revising of our relationships a bit. We respected his independence, knowing that his friends were off on their own, and he respected his role in helping around the house and being responsible.
The new college list One of the aspects of re-applying and doing a gap year is that the applications are due when the gap year is only halfway through. This means that you really have to put some thought toward what youre going to do so you can put something about it on the application. Even with my sons piecemeal approach, he had an overall game plan that he could write aboutmaybe not all the specific activities, but what he wanted to accomplish for himself.
When he created his new list he came up with schools that covered a wider spectrum of selectivity. Once this became part of the process, he realized that there were many more schools that could meet his interests than he had originally thought. Here is the new list:
Case Western Reserve
University of Rochester
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Along with two repeats:
Yale ( added at the last minute due to pressure from a friend there )
He decided to get new recommendations from his senior year teachers since they would be more recent. He wrote new essays and did the applications from scratch. Didnt re-use anything. Put ample time into every question and let his personality show through more. He didnt retake any SATs or SAT IIs. He did add new AP scores (even thought theyre not supposed to count) and had some new awards he had received at the end of his senior year.
Accepted at all the new schools . Every school offering merit aid awarded him a generous scholarship and he received need-based aid from the others. Brandeis awarded him a full-tuition music scholarship. Case was also generous. CM, MIT and Vassar awarded him need based aid.
The two repeat schools both turned him down, but by this time he was ready to move on and with all the good news he hardly noticed the rejections.
In the end hes had a fantastic year and will fully appreciate how fortunate he was to have the opportunity to go to any of the schools he was accepted at.
I am new to cc so the story of Andi and her son is new to me. Thank you so much for sharing it. After reading it through I stand in awe of your son’s resiliency.
I am so sorry that he (and you) had to go through this, but now that you are at the other end, I wonder – despite all the heart ache and moments of doubt, would you truly have had things happen any other way? I don’t subscribe to Pangloss’ theory that everything is always for the best, but in your son’s case, it does indeed seem that things did work out for the best. He will certainly appreciate his college choices in a way that few other students can. He has also learned that no matter what obstacles life has in store for him, he can not only survive them, he can thrive despite of them.
Here’s to you and your son. This is a story worth repeating.
andi, this story line and painful personal experience is as evergreen as Xiggi’s links to excellent sites on the web about college students who lost their lives to binge drinking.
Please share the story of the “lopsided list” as often as you can muster up the resolve to repeat it.
Many new CC students and parents looking for support, perspective and experience will thank you!
And we all “get” that though the original list was lopsided the student was a jewel of a young man who would be an asset to any university. (We were all rooting for him and holding our breath for his waitlist news last May and June…as were many of his 2009er classmates, believe me.)
Don’t forget to post a few vignettes next year to let us share a bit in his happiness and new life at MIT.
Never hesitate to post. Your experience was so painful, yet one I’ve come to expect from ‘newbies’, who have no idea what the competition is, or how the wrong phrasing in a letter of recommendation, or essay topic, etc, can have a major impact on admissions.
Honestly, a version of this saga could make a good article in a magazine. Andi, your writing, your sensitivity, your S’s strengths, are are compelling reasons people followed this thread and hoped for a good outcome.
Your son’s perserverance and resiliency are to be commended. What a great story of turning apparent tragedy into triumph. When it appeared he had “lost” his dream, he found it again at the tips of his fingers, in his piano, and he had the courage to follow his new path into new and unknown terrritory. In the process he became the kind of student that colleges “dream” of having attend their schools. Congratulations. That gap education ended up being worth more than anything HYPS could ever offer.
Thank you Andi, for posting the whole story. I had wondered about the whole gap year, and the crafting of the final list…something that I know took Andison a lot of time and thought. This is certainly a story that all folks who are going through the college search should read.
andi - thank you for posting this. This post should be tacked up by the mods so that it’s available and visible for years to come on this site. We really appreciate your generosity of spirit in sharing your story, which was so painful for so long. I won’t repeat how thrilled we all were at the final outcome, since you are aware of that.
(I’m still looking forward to seeing a post one day from andison!)
Thanks for the feedback everyone. There were many other incredibly helpful posts along the way but I couldn’t copy them all here- as it was I had to copy and post three times in succession
Thanks to Berurah who kindly let me vent along the way. And thanks to Northstarmom for her honesty. We can all learn from the truth.
I’ve tried to incorporate the answers to the questions that were pm’d to me by numerous students.
One thing I’d like to mention, because some students have asked me questions about it. Some kids have written to me saying they’ve gotten into a number of schools and are wondering whether if they take a gap year or do something deemed <em>important</em> if they’ll get into a “better” school. I wouldn’t want our lesson to necessarily be interpreted as a <em>way</em> to get into a top school. There were many lessons learned here, but the main one is to apply to a variety of schools in the first place and to realize that there are many schools out there that are very high quality. In short- this story is how to regroup IF this happens to you, but I wouldn’t use it as a means to an end. Andison had to choose between several schools in the end because he liked them all EVEN those that weren’t “MIT.”
If you’re a student who REALLY wants to take a gap year, and I think gap years are wonderful, than take one. But I wouldn’t necessarily use this scenario as a route to getting into a top school, cuz it might not happen.