I can still recall the sting of my college rejections. After opening two in a row, I headed to our back porch and cried. I didn’t open another response for days, and looked for any excuse to skip school. As the class salutatorian, everyone assumed I’d have no problem getting into whatever college I chose. Now my secret was out – I wasn’t smart after all. I felt like a failure, and a phony.
Fortunately, life in the “real world” has shown me how misguided I was back in high school. So, speaking as someone who has been there, here is my advice for those of you standing in the shoes I wore years ago. My hope is that you can benefit from my experience.
First, see the process for what it is. In many cases, particularly for over-achievers from competitive districts, factors beyond your control can make the difference between a fat or thin envelope – geographic location, birth year, athletic ability, legacy status, family income, racial/ethnic status, and the personal preferences (and biases) of admissions officers. After all, one dean at a “top” Ivy confessed that only 25% of his entering class is admitted for strictly academic reasons. The decision is not personal, and certainly not a reflection on your self-worth or ability.
Second, school status is not as important as you may have been led to believe. After graduating from “elite” undergraduate and law schools and spending years in corporate America, I can tell you that the name on a diploma is not a strong indicator of future success. Recent studies by The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and others undermine the correlation between school status and job placement, salary level and career advancement. You will be entering a workforce in which the answer to the question “What can you do?” carries more weight than “Where did you go?” Graduating from an “elite” college doesn’t guarantee a student can do anything – that part is up to you.
Third, don’t look back. This is the time to consider all available options with fresh eyes. If you enter college with one eye still on the school that said no, you will miss out on the plentiful opportunities at the school that said yes. In the words of Yale Dean Jeffrey Benzel, “Almost nothing depends on exactly which strong college admits you. Everything depends on what you decide to do once you get to a strong college.”
College rejection gives you the chance to rise up when the world says no and define success on your own terms. That will serve you better than any degree.
Guest blogger, Allison Singh is the author of Getting Over Not Getting In – A College Rejection Guide, and runs the website collegerejection.