On getting rejected from your dream college

spoiler alert: it’s not all bad

you’ll have a few dreams like this.

I got rejected from my dream college, and so did 81% of their applicants. My best friend got rejected from her dream college, and so did my sister, and our cousin, and millions of other people all around the world. We all have one thing in common: our inflated ideas of what college was going to be like were squashed with one email, one letter, one word. We all tried to brush it off like it was nothing, like our out-of-state trips and new outfits for interviews were just for fun, like we didn’t spend every waking moment refreshing our emails, like we didn’t sift through the mail for days on end, even after we were told we wouldn’t be offered admission.

We all knew it was coming, whether we admitted it to ourselves or not. That’s what hurts the most. But, I truly did think that I was that 19%. That small, small percentage of thousands of applicants that would stick, wouldn’t let go, and would be remembered. I had never wanted anything more in my entire life. Everything I was doing, I was doing for a college. For a college that knew me from a chaotic jumble of test scores, an interview that was (let’s be honest) 90% stuttering, and 650 carefully selected words that are supposed to show everything that I am and everything that I’m hoping to become. It was terrifying. They were watching me, monitoring my every move, my every pencil stroke, my every internet search. For two months I sat waiting in this state of limbo until a team of people who reject teenagers for a living, lay their eyes on my application.

I went home early the day I knew I was getting the decision. I felt like I was going to faint in my calculus class. I couldn’t even remind myself to breathe, let alone recall the formula for the area of a sphere. I walked down to the nurse’s office, my teacher peeking his head out the door to make sure I didn’t collapse, all the while refreshing my email like my life depended on it. My mother made me put my phone away and take a nap once I got home. I unplugged, took a breath, and went to sleep. I didn’t check my phone again until 5 o’clock that night. Still no email. I sighed, put my phone away, and started my homework; they were still watching me.

I don’t remember what time the email came, I deleted it minutes after I received it. The classic line “We regret to inform you…” forced itself behind my eyes, and that was it for me. I read the email out loud to my mother at the dinner table over spaghetti and meatballs, numb to what was happening. A chorus of “They don’t know what they’re missing!” and “You can always transfer!” rang out through the bottom floor of my house. I got up, washed my plate, and sat on the couch. The weight of the last two months had dropped off of my shoulders, but it was replaced with something much, much worse.

Rejection.

Now, I am no stranger to rejection. Whether it’s getting cast as the understudy for the part you really wanted, not getting invited to that one party that one time, or some other sappy high school story we’ve all lived through, it’s the same feeling. We’ve all felt those egg beaters inside our chests, like someone is single-handedly ripping out every capillary in our bodies. It’s torture, anguish, and no matter how many articles our moms send to us about how Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, or some other celebrity got rejected from some other school, we will always feel the same. And that’s a good thing.

Because rejection is what encourages us. Rejection pushes us down and helps us up all in the same motion. It hurts in the beginning, sure, but the inevitable restoration is always worth the pain. You have to hit rock bottom before you can go anywhere. We will all move on, we will all survive, and we will all thrive in whatever environment we are thrown into. I am confident in this not because I am some ooey-gooey optimist who sees the good in every situation, but because feeling that type of rejection is exactly what fuels humans. The love we felt for our dream college can be channeled into the school that does want us. The desire we had to have that degree hanging above our beds in four years is still there, we just need to adjust it, and we can. We can, we will, we have to.