“What did he do wrong?” asked an unhappy mother who’d begged me for insights after her son was rejected by the top five colleges on his list. This boy had not been one of my clients, so his mother summarized his profile: straight As at a fine high school, impressive SAT scores, glowing letters of recommendations and several summers devoted to foreign travel and academic challenge. She showed me a photo and told me anecdotes. I could tell he was a bright and charming boy, beloved by family and friends.
“What did he do wrong?” she repeated. She was not the first disappointed parent to ask me this question. I know she won’t be the last. But the fact is, it’s the wrong question. And it reflects a basic misunderstanding of the college admissions process.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” I assured her. “It’s just that there are thousands of excellent students, and they’re all competing for a small number of spots. The numbers were against him. They’re against everyone.”