In the popular US sitcom “mockumentary” titled “Modern Family,” teenager Alex Dunphy is rejected by her dream university, Harvard. To get her out of college-admission worries, her mother, Claire, sends her to a music festival. At the festival, her carefree elder sister, Haley, who has little ambition and no head for anything except fun and fashion, contributes her bit, by getting Alex drunk.
Many talented and ambitious teenagers go through much the same tense times as Alex when they fail to get into their favorite university or school. The most disappointed and disbelieving among them are usually those with the greatest academic scores and extracurriculars. “How come they didn’t like me? What more should I have done? What did I do wrong?” are the questions that haunt them. The “Big No” causes them depression, anger, and anxiety and they freely use words like “complete failure” and “suicide.”
Someone has said that rejection is the point at which a person becomes mature. And that, when you are rejected from something you love (guy or girl, friends’ group, or club), we feel something similar to pain. Rejection is known to be detrimental to our survival as a species. It breaks our hearts.
According to an estimate, 70 to 95 percent university applicants get rejection letters every March or April from universities and schools in the US. For most students, a “yes” from a dream or elite or selective college is a certificate of their worth. To them, it indicates what lucrative career path they will be able to take and what quality of material life they will be able to lead.
On the other hand, a “no” spells doom: the fact the college admission process is riddled with deficiencies, that college learning is only a small contributor to the making of a student’s personality and professional and personal life completely escapes the minds of most rejected applicants.
They also forget that a top-branded university or school does only so much for improving the quality of their experience as a student. And that, in the end, what matters is how a student uses the university environment to explore himself or herself and new ideas, and finds inspiration for contributing new thought. Many students in sincere pursuit of knowledge can well thrive at a lesser university as well as at Stanford or Harvard.
“Education happens across a spectrum of settings and in infinite ways, and college has no monopoly on the ingredients for professional achievement or a life well lived,” writes Frank Bruni in NYT, in an essay adapted from his book, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.” Your favorite university may be the stuff of your dreams, but it probably has excellent substitutes.
Often, students who go to top colleges end up on the same career path as those who managed to get into only “lesser” schools. Many of them find later in life that they worried too much about the college they could not attend: they may find that their friends who were supposedly much brighter, or just plain luckier, and got into an elite college took much the same career path and landed up in a similar position as they did. Did someone say life’s a great leveler?
Elite colleges may be the dream destination of many a bright student, but do they guarantee their students a fulfilling professional life? A joint study was conducted by Gallup and Purdue University to measure alumni satisfaction with their alma mater, entitled the “Gallup-Purdue Index.”
In its first report of May 2014 (there are later editions), the study, rather than focusing on high salaries or positions that students of elite universities secured after graduation, examined their satisfaction on five dimensions of life: their health, their relationships, their community, their economic situation, and their sense of purpose.
Only 10 percent graduates reported satisfaction in all the five areas across all types of universities. But surprisingly, only 11 percent of students who went to the top 50 universities ranked by US News & World Report and 13 percent of students at the top 50 liberal arts colleges reported satisfaction on all five parameters.
The percentage among students of public schools was 10 and that of non-profit private schools was 11. Significantly, for-profit institutions reported even lower levels of satisfaction, according to an NYT article.
Studies have also found that students better not pursue admission to their dream university in a financially dreamy way. It is not always a good idea to take a huge loan to go to an elite college. Student who are under the burden of massive education loans are bound to strategize career planning in such a way that they may miss out on the other benefits of attending a good college.
What can “rejected” students do to achieve their career and life goals after graduation? Students, no matter which college they manage to get into, could develop a good relationship with a mentor; take on a project that lasts for a semester or more; do internship in their chosen field; and participate wholeheartedly in one program (instead of taking part in several activities with minimal involvement).
There are also a couple of ways to give yourself the best shot: you can arm yourself well for battle and make an outstanding application. Read on.
Your undergraduate GPA and your involvement in school projects will have a lot to say about whether your favorite school accepts you. So, while you’re still in high school, score as high as you can in your tests. Find out which extracurricular activity genuinely interests you, and participate in it with a sense of involvement. Be well-prepared to compete for acceptance at your favorite college months or years ahead.
A strong application is mandatory if you are considering the top schools. What do you essentially require? A high GPA earned from a challenging course load; high scores in SAT / ACT, SAT subject tests, and AP exams; an excellent personal statement; sincere letters of recommendation; and a compelling resume that highlights your commitment to your subject of interest.
If it is an Ivy institution, you will need to stand out from the crowd to show your commitment not only to your favorite academic subject but also to an activity that you’re passionate about. Apply early action if possible, as this will show your commitment to your favorite school and give you a slight edge. But, if you have not prepared an extremely competitive application, go only for regular decision, as this will give you time to work on your application.
Is your top-choice college highly selective? If yes, then your chances are not so good to begin with. Accept this. Ivy League institutions such as Harvard and Princeton and other top universities such as Stanford and the University of Chicago have very low acceptance rates. Many institutions have acceptance rates as low as 5-10 percent, while some accept only about 30 percent of applicants. This means that 70-95 percent applicants are rejected by the top institutions.
The number of seats that your favorite university or school, if it is a top-rated institution, can offer is usually only a tenth of the number of applicants or often much less. Therefore, the probability of any student being offered admission is very small.
You need to convince yourself that rejection by your favorite university is not in any measure the final judgement of your worth. Another university just as good may see you as a great candidate and take you in.
Also keep in mind that admissions officials are human beings. The methods they use don’t add up to an exact science. They surely don’t rejoice at the prospect of having to reject an excellent student, and they certainly don’t dance around fires at night, thrilled at causing pain.
All said, most students look back at their first rejection letter with a smile. They probably join another great university or school, engage deeply with their academics and extracurricular activities, make great friends, and pave a fulfilling career path. As a student who was rejected by Stanford but got into USC affirms: “I had a blast. I had an overall fun and eclectic experience I’d never trade for anything.”
Give yourself time to get over the rejection: Spend time with friends or family talking it over, or spent time alone thinking about it. Go hang out with friends or indulge in your favorite pastime.
Don’t overindulge yourself: It’s not a great idea to spend too much time wallowing in your sorrow. Get up and do the things you have to do.
Focus on other schools you’ve applied to: Think about the positive aspects of these schools and what made you apply to them. Their campus? A spot in their sports team? If possible as a star athlete?
Consider taking a gap year: This will enable you to get a better perspective about college admission and your future. You can apply to your top-choice school next year, but take care to also apply to “safety schools” after the gap year.
Remember, transfer is also possible: You can join a second-choice school and get a transfer to your favorite school later, though this may prove difficult. Among the Ivies, Harvard, for example, admits only 1 percent transfer applicants. You really have a better choice as a freshman with an acceptance rate of 5 percent.
The benefit of rejection is that you are no longer dazzled by your top-choice school and are open to the possibility that another institution lays a better path to your academic and career goals. Yes, really. As a Quoran says, “Dream schools are wonderful and the people who get into their dream schools are extremely lucky. But don’t forget that the best place for you to grow and develop might not be the place you expect from brochures.”
Sometimes the best way to tackle rejection is to become focused, determined, and motivated to become “a better version” of yourself. In the “Modern Family” episode mentioned at the beginning, Alex, after her rejection by Harvard, says, “What’s the point? Get straight ‘A’s for ten years, spend your summers building houses, drag your cello to school every day, write the perfect essay, and for what? I don’t care anymore. I’ve spent my entire life trying to be perfect, and where did it get me?”
Haley replies, “You’re obviously going to get into one of those snooty schools, and sometimes you’re gonna come in second, or fourth, or tenth. But you’re gonna dust yourself off—and maybe put on some lipstick for once—and keep going.”
So, just move on. You know, there’s something in between success and failure. This is called “middle ground,” where you can sow your talent and reap fair rewards.