Handling Admission Decisions — A Coach’s Guide

Earlier this week my son played in a middle school basketball game. With two seconds left, he lined up to shoot free throws. He walked to the line, bounced the ball slowly several times, eyed his shot and released. Rattling from the front of the rim to the back, the ball ultimately glanced off the left side of the basket and out.

“AJ! Just take a breath. Relax and take your time,” I heard his coach yell as the opposing crowed waved their hands and pounded on the bleachers.

Perhaps it was just because he’s my son, but I could literally see the air go in and out of his chest as he tried to follow his coach’s instructions. He spun the ball around between his hands and shot…And again the ball caromed off the rim. Before anyone could rebound, the buzzer sounded. Game over.

After the team huddled for a post-game talk, the coach held my son back and put his arm around him. I couldn’t hear his words, but it was clear he was consoling and encouraging. Walking to the car, I decided not to say anything. We drove home in silence for the first ten minutes. Finally, I asked him directly, “What did coach have to say?”

He told me he understands how I feel, and that I will get another chance this season, so keep practicing and keep my head up.

In the weeks and months ahead, thousands of high school seniors will be receiving admission decisions, and even though they were delivered in a completely different setting, I felt like coach’s words are helpful, applicable, and worth repeating.

If you are deferred admission –Wrote about this last December, so you can read more here, but I hope you will not look back over what you could have done differently. Don’t spend time questioning if you should have written on a different essay topic or had someone else write you a letter of recommendation. Look forward not backward. You will get another chance this season. Finish this semester strong, send in your fall grades, and complete any forms or other requirements the school requests.

A defer is not a deny. Instead, it’s a hold on—a timeout to continue the basketball analogy. The game is not over, so don’t act like it is. As an example, 20% of Tech’s current first-year students were either deferred or waitlisted last year. Too many deferred students receive this news as a No, and they take their proverbial ball and go home. You did not apply for this round, but rather for next year. Be patient. Take a breath. Regroup. Shoot your next shot.

If you are denied admission —  I understand how you feel. Not just saying that either, so read this blog and the links within it for some hope, vision, and encouragement. Ok. You did not get in. This particular game is over and the buzzer has sounded. BUT you are talented. You are capable. You have tons of potential and promise. Keep practicing by rounding out your fall semester well and keep your head up!

It’s likely you’ve already been admitted to other colleges, or you soon will be. Maybe you need to spend time this holiday season working on a few more college applications. I understand you wish those free throws would have swished cleanly through the net, rather than rattled around the rim and out, but the long game is far from over. Keep your head up! If you do that, you will see plenty of people in the crowd cheering for you— family, friends, teachers, counselors, and others in your community who know you, love you, and believe in you. Focus on their words of affirmation, rather than the ones on a screen, a letter, or in your head right now.

If you are supporting a student receiving difficult news— Parents and other adults around students who are disappointed or hurting think they need to call the admission office (or the president or the governor), appeal the decision, “come down there,” or pull strings.

After twenty years of watching this cycle repeat itself, and particularly as my own kids grow up, I’ve come to appreciate ALL of that comes from a place of deep and genuine love. But ultimately, I think in these moments what kids (all of us, actually) need is very simple—and my son’s coach modeled this well—love, concern, empathy, belief, and encouragement. And hey, if the words aren’t coming, a heartfelt hug might be best anyway. You got this, coach!

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college