When Allison Singh was rejected from her dream college, she didn't handle it particularly well. Even though she landed at Dartmouth -- after being spurned by Princeton -- she spent her freshman year with a chip on her shoulder, believing that she was smarter than the students around her.
Twenty years later, Singh has written a book that aims to help students like her gain a larger perspective. The book, Getting Over Not Getting In: A College Rejection Guide (Outskirts Press, $8.95), speaks to the thousands of students each year who don't get admitted to their college of choice.
"I really feel for these students because I was one of them," she said. "I went off to school jaded and I wanted them to benefit from my experience."
Singh is preaching not to the slackers, but to the overachievers.
Unlike in other countries, she says, college admission in the United States is not a strict meritocracy. Colleges "reserve" as many as 70 percent of their slots for groups of students such as legacies, athletes, under-represented minorities, and those from wealthy families. Even for the remaining spots, colleges consider factors out of the students' control, such as geographical diversity or preference for well-known high schools.
These days, students can do everything right and still not get into the school of their choice, she said.
"I think for a lot of overachievers, it's part of their self-identity," she said. "When you don't get into the school that you wanted to, sometimes you feel like a failure, you feel like a phony. I wanted students to know that they didn't do anything wrong."
Singh graduated from Dartmouth and Georgetown University Law Center and practices intellectual-property law in Stony Brook, N.Y. She runs a Web site, www.collegerejection.com, has a prepared "Rejection Roadshow" talk for students and hopes to hold a "Rejection Ball" for students to dress up for and bring their rejection letters.
She wrote the book after a friend asked her to give advice to the friend's daughter who had been rejected from her first-choice college.
"I couldn't find anything out there on rejection," she said. "Everything was about getting into college -- that's what sells."
In her book, she criticizes colleges for aggressively marketing themselves to draw applications from a larger group of students. Colleges gain by doing so in inflating their rejection rates for their U.S. News & World Report rankings, but they dash the hopes of a larger pool of students in the process.
Singh also questions the resources that American colleges are increasingly using to recruit international students and wonders why they aren't making a bigger effort to set up satellite and online campuses.
She believes that all the time and energy spent in the search-and-application process would be better used by students to figure out what they want to study and target their college search based on their interests.
That said, there is some silver lining in college rejections, she said. "Very few people get through life without being rejected, and learning those coping skills is very valuable," she said. "Getting rejected does force you to look inside and see what your strengths are."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Anya Sostek is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Anya Sostek at: firstname.lastname@example.org