Originally Posted: May 19, 2014
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2020
The college recruitment process for high school students can be stressful and emotionally draining; from attending college fairs, scheduling campus visits, and talking to admission representatives to the self-reflection of filling out applications, personal essays, and browsing school profiles, you’re evaluating all of your potential colleges with the ultimate goal of answering that incredibly important question: is this “the one”?
When it’s all said and done, you’re only going to choose one institution to attend. The one is going to look different for a lot of students—so if you’re lucky enough that you’ve been accepted into multiple colleges, you have a tough choice ahead of you. Did you know that once you decide it’s proper college admission etiquette to reach out? 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, emails, and letters coming your way. I know, I know rejecting someone is awkward, let alone telling a college you’ve decided to attend somewhere else. Informing a college or university that you’re not interested can bring about a lot of similar feelings to breaking up with someone—anxiety and discomfort—but it’s for the best for you and those schools. Here’s few pointers for letting the schools you didn’t choose that you’ve made your decision.
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, email, 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 rejection, you get to do it on your terms. Don’t wait for a reprieve (the school rejects 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.
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. Being clear is a communication skill that’s important to develop because many situations in your life will call for it to avoid confusion and miscommunication. 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!
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 situation was handled.
Bonus advice: how to contact schools
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 email? 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 in the way they have most commonly communicated with you. If you typically get emails, send them a professional email back. If you tend to receive personal phone calls, the polite thing to do would be to personally call them as well. And one thing you definitely not do is have your mom call for you!
While this may seem like a painful (and unnecessary) process, not only is this the helpful, polite thing to do, but it also gives you great experience in communication skills for the future. Yes, eventually you’ll have to decline a job offer, a work project, a date, or other social obligation. Learning to do so with class now will make for a smoother outcome. Good luck in your rejections!
If you’ve made your final decision, congrats! If you haven’t, maybe watching our Celebrating Your College Decisions video with encouragements from the CollegeXpress student community will help!