Not Matched?

The VaseYou spent your day in anticipation (and possibly starvation, if you’re of an ultra-nervous disposition like me) only to find yourself drenched in utter disappointment. I regret to inform you…. This is the moment when you want to let go—all the late-late nights with your not-so-favorite textbooks have gone to waste, the pains on sporting fields were endured in vain. Solace from your friends or parents flies out one ear as soon as it enters the other. A braid of doubts, regrets, and panic refuses to untangle even late into the night as you ponder what has gone wrong, what steps to take next, what awaits on the other side.

Let me preface the following spiel by telling you that I was not matched. Nonetheless, through QuestBridge Regular Decision, I was admitted to three of my top choices (Princeton, Stanford, and Dartmouth) and was offered generous financial aid packages.

One thing you must understand about college admissions is its unpredictability. As my counselor once put it, applying to top tier universities is like buying a lottery ticket. According to QuestBridge statistics, only 440 out of 4,773 Finalists received College Match Scholarships last year. Nonetheless, more than 1,500 Finalists were admitted to a partner school through Regular Decision. The fact is clear—whether you were admitted early is not at all an indicator of how your merits compare to other applicants. The colleges you ranked may still be very interested in you. On the bright side, not being matched also renders you freedom to explore a fascinating array of colleges. Truth be told, most of my Questie peers at Princeton and at other institutions were not match recipients (in fact, I’ve yet to meet one).

This leads me to my quintessential advice: DO NOT let not getting matched be an excuse to stop working hard. There’s still a long way to go before the final decisions are released. If you want to gage the attention of a college you’ve ranked, try drafting update letters or emails detailing your academic and extracurricular accomplishments in the past few weeks. Depending on individual school policies, you can seek supplemental recommendations to add to your portfolio. For schools you didn’t rank, reflect on your experiences from writing the first set of essays and start preparing applications right away. Piling up everything to plow through during winter break is a terrible idea, and you should never wait until the clock ticks down to January 1st. Remember, colleges are looking for applicants who are genuinely excited to attend their institution. Prove your passion with your actions.

There’s nothing pleasant about opening a disappointing e-letter on a cold, brisk December day. However, remember that there are thousands of Quest Scholars who had to bear through the same grim couple of hours yet ultimately ended up in the school of their dreams. In Chinese, the character for crisis is identical to the one for opportunity. Let the match decision be a motivator to push your limits. Patience brews strength, and it surely will make the fruits of spring sweeter.

Jessica Li, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’18