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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

So...You Didn’t Get Into Your First Choice

By Peter DeWitt — April 13, 2014 3 min read

“It is not the college we get accepted into that matters, but what we do with the opportunity when we get there.”

Tis’ the season when seniors in high school around the country are making their decision on what college or university they want to attend in the fall. For some students the decision has been made that they will attend a community college so they can get their grades up. Others are getting letters in the mail that will help make their decision for them.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics (Department of Labor),

Of the 3.2 million youth age 16 to 24 who graduated from high school between January and October 2012, about 2.1 million (66.2 percent) were enrolled in college in October. The college enrollment rate of recent high school graduates in October 2012 was little different from the rate in October 2011 (68.3 percent). For 2012 graduates, the college enrollment rate was 71.3 percent for young women and 61.3 percent for young men. The college enrollment rate of Asians (82.2 percent) was higher than for recent white (66.6 percent), black (58.2 percent), and Hispanic (70.3 percent) graduates."

Many students have found out that they got into the top college of their choice. Perhaps it was an Ivy League school or the college or university their parents attended. Maybe, the senior is the first to go to college in their family, so the pride is in the fact that they are continuing their education. US News recently published a list of the schools where accepted students enroll. Many students don’t enroll in a college that accepts them because they have been accepted by multiple colleges or universities.

Other students are not as fortunate.

Those students are finding out that they have been wait listed, or did not get accepted, to their top choice. After years of hard work throughout their formal education, they have hit a roadblock as they move forward into their collegiate years. At the time, it can seem devastating to not get into your top choice. When students don’t have as much experience behind them, as they do in front of them, not getting into the college of your dreams can be pretty devastating.

For full disclosure, I was not a strong student. I didn’t get into my top choice, and I was not reaching very high. In actuality, my grades were so low in high school that I was only accepted into non-credit bearing courses at a local community college. As my friends were accumulating college credit in their senior year of high school, I couldn’t even accumulate credit when I was in college. For a while, it seemed pretty defeating, but I was fortunate because I surrounded myself with the right people who pushed me in the right direction.

Sometimes not getting what you want is a good thing...

There are a couple of seniors that I know who recently didn’t get into their top choice. One is a former student, and the other is in my family. It was highly disappointing for them to not get in, especially after how hard they worked. However, knowing these two students, I can say their first choice lost an opportunity when these students were placed on the waiting list. They are bright, good-hearted students, but perhaps I’m a bit biased.

The truth is, there is a learning opportunity for those students who did not get into their number one choice. Or, for students who took a similar path to me, there is a great learning opportunity in being asked to prove yourself when you get into college. In both situations, you are given a clean slate to show people who you are...and perhaps take the time so you can figure out who you are outside of your high school experience. Too often, we feel defined by our high school experiences, and they are only a fraction of the life experience you will collect.

Personally, I believe it is not the college we get accepted into that matters, but what we do with the opportunity when we get there. Not every successful person started out in the Ivy Leagues, or even got into their first choice...and not every person who attended an Ivy League school or their first choice found great success.

Work hard wherever you are, and do great things with the time that you have there.

In the end, going to college is an opportunity that not everyone gets. There are some students who not only don’t get into their first choice, but can’t afford to their local community college, so they end up with no choice at all. Some students just don’t want to go to college. Regardless of the path, there are plenty of times in life when we do not get our first choice, and we show what kind of person we are in how we handle it.

Some thoughts as you move forward:


  • Deficit mindset - Don’t think about the things you haven’t done. Focus on the things you will do.
  • Don’t let others define you - Too often we allow those around us (ie. Peers, teachers, strangers, etc.) define who we are. Make that decision for yourself.
  • Don’t let your past define you - Your past is your past, good times and bad. Don’t let it take up too much space in your mind, and definitely don’t let it prevent you from taking positive risks as you move forward.
  • One life - It’s the only one you have. Don’t wait around for something to happen. Make it happen for you.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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