The college recruitment process for high school students shares many characteristics with the romantic “courting” process of yesteryear. From the first date (attending a college fair, scheduling a campus visit, talking to an admission representative) to the “get-to-know-you” stage (filling out applications, personal essays, browsing school profiles), you’re evaluating all of your suitors with the ultimate goal of answering that incredibly important question: is this “the one”?
When it is all said and done, you’re only going to choose one institution to attend. For many of you, now that we’re half-way through May, you’ve already chosen “the one.” So how should you end your “courtship” with the other schools? You could simply ignore them and hope they go away, but, as you’re probably learning right now, that doesn’t seem to be slowing down the phone calls, e-mails, and letters coming your way.
It’s time for the break-up call.
I know, I know . . . break-ups are terrible, awkward, and painful. Informing a college or university that you’re just not that into them can feel the same way and prompt anxiety as well, but it’s for the best for you and those schools. So I’m going to give you a few pointers for breaking up with the schools you didn’t choose. After you’ve selected the right school for you, it’s time to tell the others. Here are three important things to keep in mind:
1. Be proactive
Streamers have rippled through the air, choirs are singing triumphantly, and you’re planning to wear your new school’s T-shirt around the house all night. Congrats! Enjoy your moment. But once your moment has passed (let’s say a day?), it’s time to be proactive and reach out to the schools that won’t be seeing your face on campus this fall.
Don’t wait for the phone call, e-mail, postcard, or desperate alum to show up at your door to find out if you’re coming. Own this moment as well. If you’re proactive with the break-up, you get to do it on your terms. Don’t wait for a reprieve (the school breaks up with you because you’ve gone quiet for two months), reach out proactively, and inform them you’ve chosen another institution. It’s as simple as that. If they start to ask too many questions or try to rope you back in, stand firm. Item two can help with this.
2. Be clear
Yes, it can be awkward and uncomfortable to tell an admission counselor you’ve been interacting with for over a year that you won’t be attending his or her school, but don’t beat around the bush. Be clear in your message: you’ve chosen another school to attend this fall. If you want to include where you’re attending, that’s up to you, but the only information the other schools need to know is that you won’t be accepting their offers of admission. If they start prying for more or won’t take no for an answer, then you have my permission to ignore them!
3. Be grateful
I’m sure your decision was a difficult one. There were numerous factors that weighed in and, ultimately, you had to make a tough call. It’s okay to show gratitude to those who worked with you throughout your decision-making process. While being proactive and clear that you’re not attending a particular institution that recruited you, be sure to thank the school (or the individuals representing that institution) for their time and energy. It only reflects positively upon you (and reiterates the school’s initial rationale for recruiting you). Not to mention that if you were to change your mind in a month, you haven’t fully burned that bridge by how the break-up was handled.
Now, I’m sure the far more pressing questions in your mind as you read this are, How do I communicate my decision to these schools? Do I have to call them? Can I have my mom call them? Maybe send an e-mail?
I guess the truth is this: whatever method you choose to inform the school of your decision to attend elsewhere will work as long as they are informed, but I think the rule of thumb here is to communicate it to the institution the way they have most commonly communicated with you. If you typically get e-mails, e-mail them back. If you tend to receive personal phone calls, the polite thing to do would be to personally call them as well.
While this may seem like a painful (and, you may think, unnecessary) process, not only is this the helpful, polite thing to do, but it also gives you great experience for the future. Yes, eventually you’ll have to decline a job offer, a work project, a date, or other social obligation. Doing so with class will make for a smoother outcome.