Introspection #8: The Success in Our Failures
Rejection can hurt.
This bitter sentiment has clawed at my heart, as well as that of many seniors, as colleges are starting to release their highly anticipated decisions. Many of my friends are very ambitious, applying to top-tier schools that they have dreamed about for years before high school. Of course, in no way should getting into a prestigious school be considered “simple,” and many seniors know that. But we hold onto a glimpse of hope. Hope that maybe that one compelling service project, that one unique orchestra opportunity, or even that one amazing test score is enough for colleges to graciously admit you. Many of us have worked hard to get where we are, and sometimes it can feel like we have accomplished so many great achievements thanks to our efforts that a harvest loaded with the fruits of our labor are almost a guarantee. We think that we absolutely deserve it.
Until one letter proves otherwise.
Reality crashes in.
The immediate feeling is denial. How could an admissions committee possess the audacity to reject you when you have practically worked your butt off for thirteen entire years of school? You have always been taught that “hard work pays off,” but the cursed and minorly apologetic words displayed on your computer denying you of your wishes directly contradict the belief. For a moment, the world stops, and your heart is struck with pain.
Then, your mind is clouded with anger. Anger at yourself for not pushing yourself hard enough. Anger at the teachers who allotted their time to writing you letters of recommendation that could have made or broken your application. Anger at your parents because they can never truly understand what you are going through. Anger at your friends for encouraging you to persevere and apply to the school that you initially believed could never accept you. You hate yourself for foolishly accepting what seems now to be the worst possible feeling in the world: optimism.
The next emotional phase is the “bribery” phase. You immediately start looking for whether or not your college accepts appeals. Furthermore, just briefly, you may consider stalking your dream school’s admission counselors on the Internet to unveil possible methods to reach out to them directly. Of course, this kind of behavior is very immature, but your novel shock suppresses any of your rational thinking.
After this stage is depression. You do not feel motivated to do work, attend school, finish your other college applications, engage in your hobbies, chat with your friends—basically anything. Numbness has overtaken your body. Is there a point in looking forward in life when no matter how hard you try to attain a goal, you end up empty-handed? Why keep pushing yourself if success can never be assured?
Then there is acceptance.
When I got denied from my dream school, I faced all of the described emotional phases in unique ways. I did not talk to my parents for an entire day, cried in my bedroom for half an hour, and deleted every email, website bookmark and Instagram page of the university from my life. The school’s rejection letter filled me with the same terror I felt when I got turned down from the All-State Orchestra due to my horrendous NYSSMA music solo performance on the viola. Back then, I scolded myself for letting my nerves get the best of me, ruining the tonal quality of my performance. Now, I was criticizing myself for letting my aspiration get the best of me. Everybody is different and may or may not go through all of the same emotional stages at their own paces. Nevertheless, acceptance is always crucial.
When some of my friends started texting me about their own college rejections, most of them mentioned how the experience was humbling, dragging them back to the reality of how competitive the admissions process truly is, especially for the class of 2021. This year, many prestigious universities saw jaw-dropping spikes in application numbers. These upticks are most likely since many institutions dropped standardized testing requirements for applicants in the class of 2021 due to COVID’s circumstances, along with the unfortunate rise in scholastic competition among teenagers that pushes them to apply to countless schools, which has become easier thanks to the Common Application. Hence, it was harder than ever for seniors this year to stand out to colleges due to the overwhelming number of prospective hopefuls also wanting schools to acknowledge their breadth. Considering the immense amount of talent that all teenagers contain these days, unfortunately, some very well-qualified students are going to be rejected simply if an institution does not have enough room to accommodate them.
But I have recently come to terms with the fact that colleges do not define who we are.
The hard work that we exert to achieve our dreams will only help us in the future, in spite of what obstacles try to tell us otherwise. Even if we get rejected from our favorite institutions, the determination and strenuous efforts we yield on our demanding mission to have a successful high school career only empower us to generate wondrous opportunities for ourselves to succeed. Similarly, despite that I did not get into the All-State Orchestra, the number of hours I spent practicing for the audition stimulated within me a newly raw and vehement adoration for the viola that allowed me to immensely improve my playing. And my hard work paid off, letting me get into competitive orchestras like the Empire State Youth Orchestra.
Similarly, none of us can deny that our determination to receive an exemplary education after high school has helped us mature and evolve as young teenagers in beneficial ways. Some of us have become more motivated to work hard. Some of us have become more willing to reach out for guidance. Others have become better at communication. Hence, the character we develop on our arduous adventures from Kindergarten to twelfth grade draws us closer to becoming the next great leaders of society. We are no longer silenced by the assumption that our generation is pitiful and hopeless.
We prove others wrong by promoting great change.
One of my friends got rejected from her dream school recently, but I know that she is more than capable of enhancing any community around her. For instance, she is conducting a research project that addresses the ongoing problem with eutrophication in lakes. As an aspiring hydrologist, she hopes to promote sustainability efforts to save bodies of water across the world, conserving the precious life contained in our planet. Her dream school may have rejected her, but the inspiring work that she passionately engages in proves that any school would be so honored to have this friend pick it and utilize its opportunities to grow even more as a promising adolescent. Hence, even though one may feel lucky to get into a college, in reality, the college itself should also be pleased to have the privilege to educate such a refined individual.
No matter what institution one goes to, the college experience will always be what someone makes of it. One school might have better programs, opportunities, and professors than another, but a student should never feel limited by a college’s resources in order to succeed. Regardless of how many rejections come our way, the skills that we attain throughout our K-12 lives are worth more than any measly letter that ominously appears on our college portals.
This statement also applies to those deservingly accepted into their dream institutions. We can be proud of the schools that we get into all we want, but we should also remind ourselves that our lives do not stop once we enter college. Pursuing education after high school is just one of the greatest turning points in our lives: there will be more significant opportunities in the future that could result in either success or failure. But in the end, how we mature while we are following our ambitions can push us to embark on possibilities that will make us flourish as individuals. For instance, those with heightened motivation can use their energy to spread social justice awareness in their area. Those with a new willingness to reach out can use that passion to volunteer at more local senior living centers. Those with enhanced communication skills can use their abilities to publicize the crises occurring in Yemen. I hope that many seniors get into a college that they highly appraise, but we must never forget to acknowledge the success in how much we internally developed before our admissions results.
With that in mind, do not let a rejection permanently falter your pride.