5 Brutal Lessons I Learned When the College Rejections Flooded In

Every college rejection letter is essentially the same:

We appreciate your interest in ________ University. We received a record number of applications this year and every one of them was thoroughly reviewed by our admissions staff. Unfortunately, we cannot offer you admission into the first-year class of 2023.

Please do not be discouraged, your academic achievements are impressive, and we wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors.

If the first word is not Congratulations! you can skim the rest because it is not good news. This past spring, I got a lot of these not-good-news letters. Seven to be exact: five rejections and two waitlists.

Here’s what I learned during the college rejection process. (@nopponpat via Twenty20)

 In August, when I started the college application process, I felt that ten schools was way too many. My biggest concern was how I was going to decide between all of those colleges. Fast forward to March and the rejections were flooding in, with each new not-good-news letter my panic grew. I had my heart set on my favorite school, I had thought about what classes I would take my first semester there and I had pictured myself walking the campus as a student and that now felt endangered. Eventually, it was taken away altogether.

It hurts to get rejected from a school.

No matter how low on your list of potential schools, it feels like a slap in the face to receive a letter that seems to scream, “You are not good enough!” Naturally, I speculated why I was not accepted, I complained, and I cried. Boy, did I cry when I got waitlisted from my first-choice school. Every rejection, quite frankly, sucks, but my college application process taught me several very valuable lessons.

Lessons From College Rejection Letters

1. You do not always get what you want.

This may come across as harsh, but it is very true. I worked hard throughout my high school career and jumped through all of the hoops that make up the college application process. I thought I had done everything I needed to in order to go to the school I absolutely wanted to attend.

And, as I said before, I did not get what I wanted. And that frustrating experience made me realize that sometimes what we want right now is not always what we need in the long run. The hard piece of this lesson is that it only makes sense in hindsight. Only after going through an experience can you reflect and realize how that benefited you more than the other outcome would have. I choose to trust the process and know that at some point I will look back and recognize that what came to be was the best possible outcome for me, I just could not see it from the original vantage point.

2. Positivity feels better.

This is a lesson I have learned countless times and will need to be reminded of my whole life because I naturally tend towards being a pessimist. Immediately after I got waitlisted at my top choice school and realized that I would probably end up attending a school that had originally been at the bottom of my list. I was very bitter. I cried when I talked about it, I did not want to accept my reality, and I would not even pretend to be happy to be going to a school that is truly a wonderful university that I am privileged to be attending.

But, after a few weeks, something amazing happened. I started acknowledging that this college would be my future school. I opened myself up to my new reality and I realized that I was actually excited. Now, several months removed from the college rejection letters of the spring, I am thrilled to be attending what was originally my last choice college. I may have had to go through the grieving process first, as dramatic as that sounds, but I am in a good place with a positive outlook. Because life feels a lot better with a positive attitude.

3. It is absolutely useless to compare yourself to others.

I am not going to lie, I still get disgruntled when I see on social media that someone I know is going to one of the schools I was rejected from. I cannot help but wonder what they have going for them that I do not. What did they do differently? Are they really that much smarter than me? I thought my essay was great, what did they write?

But this is an exercise in futility, so I have to work to steer clear of that line of thought because it only causes me hurt and has no purpose. Every person is different and there are countless factors that could potentially explain our differing outcomes. They got in and I did not, I will never know why and I just have to accept that. Dwelling on that does no good at all.

4. You get out of your education what you put into it.

This is advice that almost every single adult in my life has given me, but it does hold truth. I could get an undergraduate degree from anywhere and very few employers will really care what school it came from. Obviously, Ivy League schools carry more clout behind their name, but, essentially, a degree is a degree and I can get a quality education from any school in the country as long as I am willing to put in the work.

A school can have the most amazing resources and faculty ever and if I do not put any effort into my school work none of that matters because my education is driven by me. I will benefit from a college education because I am motivated to study and step outside of my comfort zone and learn, none of that comes from the university I attend, all of that is determined by me and my effort.

5. Things change.

When you’re applying to college it can be really easy to slip into the idea that you need to have everything figured out right now, you need to know the answers to all of the big questions. What school you are going to seems like it will directly control what career you get and how successful you will be, so you have to know what you are doing right now.

But things change.

I could change my major, I could transfer schools, I could decide college is not for me and drop out, I could get an internship that helps me discover a new passion, I could get a job lined up before I even graduate. The beauty of college, and life, is that there are so many opportunities available that I cannot confine myself to a rigid template of what I think my life should look like because that would mean I might miss out on an amazing opportunity I did not see coming.

The college application process is just the beginning of a massive opportunity for learning and growing as a person. I have not even started my college career yet and I have already learned so much from this experience, even if it did not turn out the way I had expected it to.

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About Emma Wilcox

Emma Wilcox is a recent graduate of Hudson High School and will be attending Miami University in the fall as a Women's Studies and Creative Writing major. She has spent the last fifteen years of her life doing competitive gymnastics, but recently retired and is eager to embrace the college experience.

Read more posts by Emma

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