My Daughter Was Rejected From The College of Her Dreams

Nothing had made me prouder than when my daughter announced this fall that she intended to apply to Early Decision to the college of her dreams. On a good day, it takes her an hour to decide whether to wear sneakers or Uggs or put cream cheese or butter on her bagel. So making this decision was an enormous feat.

I was happy that my daughter applied early decision to college

It’s an achievement for any high school senior, but somehow, it seemed even more significant for her. Maybe because she’s my daughter? Maybe because after two years of hearing about, researching, visiting, and contemplating life at dozens of colleges, she had picked “the one.”  Maybe because I realized that my baby girl was heading off to college, and soon she would be making significant decisions without me.

She took eleven and a half years of public education, ten years of summer camp independence and leadership development, four years of high school sports, three years of AP English, one year of ACT-taking, and seventeen years of growing into a young adult, and wrapped herself up in a “package” otherwise known as the Common Application.

College rejection
Teen reading bad college rejection news online (By Antonio Guillem/ Shutterstock)

She poured her whole self into her application

She poured her heart into her essay and spent countless hours finessing her message. She sat through meetings with the privately hired, now-very-rich college advisor. With the help of a heartfelt mom, dad, and daughter powwow, she confirmed that she was ready to commit to ED. On a crisp Sunday afternoon in October, surrounded by her twin sister, her little sister, her father, and me, she pressed send.

We cheered. We hugged her with tears in our eyes because this was IT. Her application would soon be in the hands of college admissions officers, who would decide her fate. Everyone in her life prayed that the college would reciprocate her love.

Because when you were a seventeen-year-old in 2021, your life did not exist behind closed doors. Your life exists on Snapchat and Insta, and TikTok. And everything you do is to be shared. It’s an unspoken rule of teenage life. So, in addition to our loving family, every one of her home friends, camp friends, home friends’ camp friends, and camp friends’ home friends were on the ED news.

Then the wait began

And then it was time to wait. But waiting was not just waiting. We talked about it incessantly. She talked about it with friends. I talked about it with friends. She dreamt about it. I dreamt about it.

We texted each other from our beds late at night about it:

Her: ”I’m so nervous. Do you think they have read my application yet?”

Me: “I know! Me too.  But who knows?? Go to sleep. You have tests tomorrow.”

Her: “I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about college.”

Me: “I know. Me too. I love you. Good night.”

Incidentally, my daughter was not alone. All the other twelfth graders walking the halls of her high school — and every high school across the country — felt the EXACT same way. They compared themselves to one another, thought about the colleges of their dreams, checked their chances on Naviance scattergrams, and put it all “out there” on social media.

In early December, the message came that she would have an answer soon

Finally, one day in early December, THE message from THE “love of her life school” arrived, announcing the exact date and time that she would learn of her fate: 6:00 pm on Tuesday, December 14th. She could barely get the words out when she called to tell me. She excitedly told her friends. Her friends told their friends. And just like that…we, and everyone else in my daughter’s world, found ourselves counting down.

On December 13th, I climbed into bed, reflecting on all that had led up to these final 24 hours. I harassed my husband as he tried to sleep by talking about every possible outcome, and I silently prayed that 6:01 pm would be a joyous and pivotal moment in our lives. I texted my daughter from bed and told her how much I loved her and that my heart was overflowing with pride. My sleep was interrupted by nerves, and at some point, I just gave up.

Morning came, and we reviewed her plan for the day: School, Orange Theory, shower, then…….

The day was filled with texts back and forth. I was as nervous as she was. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t focus at work. Text, text, text…

Me: “You okay?”
Her: “Freaking out.”
Me: “Breathe.”
Her: “I’m trying.”

She made her way home and into the shower. She set up her computer in the kitchen precisely as she wanted…she would stand at the keyboard at one end of the kitchen island while her sisters, her dad, and I would gather across from her. The ULTIMATE “acceptance video” was just minutes away.

At 5:50 pm, we were READY. Her twin sister prepped her phone, so she’d be able to video the big reveal perfectly. Our spontaneous family dance party helped shake our nerves…5:56. 5:57. 5:58. She logged in at 5:59, and we hugged. We screamed. We teared up. We turned off the music and waited silently. 6:00 pm. Her fingers hit the keys. She looked up with a look of terror and pressed enter. It was a moment in time that lasted too long. She screamed. We screamed.

And then she had her answer

And then the words followed, almost inaudibly but clear enough for us to understand: “I…got…rejected.”

And then…the sobs. The mom hugs. The dad hugs. The sister hugs. The family hugs. The cries of, “It’s not fair!!!”  “How could this happen!?!”  The sprint up the stairs and straight to her room. The rush to the corner of her bed to bury her face in her favorite stuffed animal with the missing tail. And she let it all go. And go. And go.

The word “rejected” stings. We don’t often hear it, so its impact is powerful. And for my daughter and every twelfth grader who has been met with the same fate, it’s made even more potent because what should be a “private” rejection is 100% public. Our teenagers’ inability to keep a secret or anything to themselves doesn’t always work in their favor.

My daughter was no different. Everyone in her world knew she was waiting for this early decision response. They knew when the news would hit her inbox, and they also waited impatiently, refreshing their phones to look for her 6:01 pm post. When there was no update on her Insta, Finsta, Snap story, or Facebook page, it was clear to all that “Congratulations” wasn’t among the words she saw when she opened her inbox.

It’s hard not to take rejection personally

My daughter’s phone buzzed for hours. She ignored every vibration and cried for the remainder of the night into the next day. I lay by her side and did the same. What school wouldn’t want MY daughter as part of its student body? Did they even READ her essay? Did they care that her teacher’s recommendation said she was one of the best writers she’d ever had in her class?

I know that my girl will survive. She’s experiencing a setback like the ones experienced by thousands and thousands of “rejected” students year after year. I’m also experiencing a setback. Because….rejected???  Really?! We spent twelve years making our way to this point, and all of her achievements and hard work boiled down to, “Good luck in your future endeavors.”

But don’t feel bad for her. Or for me.

I’m well aware that in less than a year, my daughter and her twin sister will be studying for their final exams, spell checking and submitting their end-of-semester papers, saying winter break good-byes to their newfound friends, and packing up a month’s worth of laundry to bring home to this mother who will happily wash the stench out of every t-shirt, sock and pair of jeans.

I’m well aware that by the spring, the sting caused by watching everyone else’s Instagram college acceptance videos will be replaced by the excitement of prom dress shopping and graduation parties. By June, the dreaded question, “Have you decided where you’re going next year?” will soon be met with “I did. And I can’t freaking wait!”

One week later, my daughter is back to herself…and with a vengeance. She has diagnosed herself with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has confirmed with a smile that she will not be the one to read any future college e-mails coming her way.

There are still tears when THAT school’s name comes up, or she accidentally stumbles upon an Instagram acceptance post. But she’s starting to repeat the words everyone continues to preach: what is meant to be will be. And she is ready for what her future brings.

And…she knows she has so much to be proud of, as do I.

The author wishes to remain anonymous.

More to Read: 

I Was Rejected From My Dream School, Now I’m Here

Who is to Blame When Kids Lie On Their College Applications

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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