College Rejection: Time to Grow Up

[Note: Published from archived writings with a date the essay was written.]

Wall Street Journal, V. CCLIII N. 104, p. A16, Letter to the Editor by Stanley Riggs.

In response to the article “Rejection: Some Colleges Do It Better Than Others” printed in the 29 April 2009 Journal, Mr. Riggs states he is buying stock in pharmaceutical firms that make mood-disorder medications. He makes a point that the generation that was never not picked for the team, given a prize for trying, and never told they failed is now coming of age. They are learning the world is tough place.

The original article profiled several colleges and talked about how they went to great lengths to not hurt student’s feelings and told them they were rejecting their application, not the applicant. I’m not sure which is worse, the colleges who think that is true or the recipients who think that is true. The fact is, those rejected from college are rejected because there were better qualified applicants, not applications. In a world of limited resources not everyone gets what they want.

Who do we blame for this? The K-12 education system. Teachers have spent more time telling students how good they are rather than making them good that now the students are realizing they do actually have short-comings. They are not bad people, they are not even stupid people; they are just not as good as they were told they were their entire lives. And of course, I generalize here. I see many students on a regular basis who are down-to-Earth types, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and some, like me, are amazed that they even made it to college.

I recall a friend’s child who played sports and told me they had no winners or losers in the game; then she told me the score of the last game. In the real world, not the pretend world of school, there are winners and losers. There are no prizes for trying hard. Leading our children to believe otherwise is dishonest and is setting them up not for disappointment, but for not knowing how to deal with disappointment.

There are times when good students do not get what they want, even when they have done nothing wrong. Each year we review students for scholarships but our scholarships are funded from endowments and private contributions. In other words, the funds are limited. With the current economy they are even more limited today than in the past. I can truthfully say that we were not able to give scholarships to students who did deserve them because we did not have the money to give away. Many of the students took it well, but others were not prepared to deal with not getting what they wanted. Their high school counselors made commitments they knew nothing about. Some actually learned this year that we really do look at the total application and resumes count.

The bright spot for me this year were the two students I interviewed for appointments to the U.S. Naval Academy. Both students were very intelligent and had high GPAs and test scores. They did not max out the scores but they were very good. Each student had also done something other school. They were involved in athletics, student government; they worked in the community. Perhaps most importantly, they were nice and friendly. They were a pleasure to talk to, had something important to say, and they knew the odds were against them from the beginning. Let’s face it, given the number of applicants and the number of spaces available, most people who apply for admission to a service academy do not get in. These students presented no sense of entitlement whatsoever. They both were admitted and will make great citizens and Naval Officers.

I think I’ll join Mr. Riggs and buy pharmaceutical stock. We have a generation that is going to need lots of medication.

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