Some Thoughts on Rejection
Every spring, college acceptances and rejections go out, and inevitably, thousands and thousands of hearts are broken. If you’ve been rejected from your dream school, this is the article for you. I’ll offer my thoughts on rejection and give you some advice on how to deal with rejection from your dream school.
It’s not the end of the world, although it might feel like it
First, know that your feelings are totally valid. You might feel like a complete failure, and that’s understandable. Hopefully when you’re finished reading this article, you’ll understand that it’s not the end of the world to be rejected from your dream school. It all depends on how you process the rejection, how you see the rejection in your “narrative” of your life. YOU decide what the rejection means.
While the sting of rejection is fresh, it can be helpful to remember these seven pieces of advice.
1) time heals all
2) college admissions is a lottery, so you shouldn’t treat acceptance or rejection as a personal judgment
3) sometimes the universe might know better than you
4) you can treat rejection as a test
5) you’ll emerge from this rejection stronger if you choose
6) success will be even sweeter because of this rejection
7) life isn’t fair, but you can succeed in spite of that fact (if not because of it).
Let’s discuss these pieces of advice one by one.
Time heals all
It’s a cliché for a reason. The pain you feel today is ALWAYS greater than the pain of remembering.
Ask yourself if you’re more or less devastated now than you were from events that happened four years ago.
If you’re like most people, the answer will be “less” — or not at all.
That’s because there will always be new challenges, new successes, new failures to worry about. Failure is a part of life. Failure is better than never trying. Failure is a requirement for success. Without failure, success would cease to be special. There would be nothing against which to judge it.
Take solace in the fact that if you focus on the present moment and make the most out of your failure, you won’t even be thinking about it a couple months or years down the road. People who live in the present moment are constantly burdened and dogged by failures of the past. Instead, they’re taking full advantage of all the opportunities and trials of the present. Doing so allows them to cultivate NEW successes that they can be proud of. Along the way, of course, will be more failures, but these people will have learned to handle those failures and take them in stride.
College admissions is in large part a lottery, not a personal judgment
When it comes to college admissions specifically, however, it’s wise to understand your chances from a purely mathematical standpoint. You’ve got to take the emotion out of the situation if you want to look at it dispassionately, and applying the faculty of reason to your situation just might make you feel a bit better about your rejection.
College admissions is a lottery.
We can’t all get into Harvard. Or Stanford. Or MIT. Or Yale.
Acceptance rates at colleges such as these, as well as other top colleges in the United States, range from around 4% to 10%.
Think of the hundreds of thousands of students that apply to the nation’s top colleges.
There are BOUND to be perfect-scoring students rejected from top colleges. There are bound to be valedictorians rejected from the nation’s top colleges.
There will be people who did worse than you academically who will get in instead of you.
College admissions officers do look at your grades and test scores, as well as your class rank, but such academic information by no means forms the basis of their decisions. They want to create diverse classes; they have their reasons for viewing college admissions as a “holistic” process.
One thing’s for sure: an acceptance doesn’t make you better than someone who gets a rejection. Nor does a rejection make you worse than someone who gets an acceptance.
College admissions is a lottery, in many respects. Incredible students can (and do) get rejected in droves.
So cast a wide net in order to have the best chances in the lottery. In addition, of course, to doing well in high school and presenting a compelling and authentic picture of yourself to the college admissions committee.
Sometimes the universe knows better than you, so to speak
You may have your heart dead-set on school in New York City, but you might end up going to a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. Although at first it might seem like your dreams have been dashed, consider:
Maybe you’ll make friends at the college you’re going to that will change your life
Maybe you’ll connect with professors who will change your life
Maybe you wouldn’t have done as well in college at your dream school
Maybe you’ll fall in love in college
Maybe the college you go to will best position you for graduate school
Maybe you’ll make connections that lead to a full-time job
The list goes on.
Life will always be filled with “what-ifs.” But if you dwell on the past and the future, you’ll miss the present. A world of opportunity surrounds you, and you have to have the right attitude to see it.
If you’ve been rejected from your dream school, trust that the universe might know better than you. Live in the present moment and take full advantage of the opportunities that the college you end up going to offers. Make friends, meet people, excel in classes, join clubs, conduct personal projects.
If you’re like me, and if you’re like most people, you’ll look back fondly on your college experience, despite its challenges. Why? It contributed in making you who you are. Who knows how many amazing experiences and relationships might come about in college, if you allow yourself to see them and let them happen.
With the right attitude, you just might be GLAD you were rejected from your dream school. It takes a while to see what choices were right and wrong, sometimes. What feels like a disappointment now might turn out to be a blessing when you reflect on it.
If you want to, you can make that fact be true for you as well.
You can treat rejection as a test
Maybe your rejection angered you. It’s a common reaction, anger, in the face of rejection. But is anger productive? Can it serve any purpose? Only if it leads you to view your rejection as a test. Acknowledge your anger and let it pass, and instead ask yourself:
Will you let this break you?
Will you persevere?
Do you know how good success will feel having experienced failure?
Will you prove the people who doubted you wrong?
It can feel incredible to silence people who doubt you by succeeding. Success is the best revenge, as they say. Not that revenge is something you should be striving for! The concept is only valid and useful a metaphor.
So what if you’re rejected from your dream school. You’re about to THRIVE at one of the schools that was wise enough to accept you.
Treat your rejection as a test. If you can’t handle rejection with grace, how can you be expected to appreciate or handle success with the appropriate level of grace and responsibility?
With great power comes great responsibility. And with NO power comes great responsibility (if you hope to one day attain power!)
So hold your head up high, stand up straight, keep your chin up, and show the world who you really are. Show them what you’re capable of. Prove to YOURSELF that you’ve got what it takes to take this rejection in stride.
Success is so much more enjoyable if you’ve experienced rejection. Success only has any meaning if you’ve experienced rejection. So don’t obsess over what you can’t control. Focus on the things you CAN control, and take pride in who you are and what you.
You’ll be stronger because of this failure
Who wouldn’t want to be the best version of themselves?
What people literally never fail? No one. In fact, all of the successful people you’ve seen have had more failures and rejections than you can count. You simply don’t hear about them and see them. Think about social media. Very few people post about their failures. Most keep their failures hush-hush. Instead, people craft posts designed to showcase their successes, to make themselves feel valuable because they appear successful in other people’s eyes.
All of that’s quite fake. What’s REAL is struggle, then the sweetness of success.
What you ought to do is recognize that this failure is a challenge and a test, and how you RESPOND to that challenge and test is what dictates your worth rather than the failure itself.
If you rise to the occasion and make the best of your situation, if you’re determined to just to survive but to thrive, you will emerge in the wake of your failure as a stronger, wiser, more resilient version of yourself. A humbler version, ideally, a version of yourself with the grace and humility required to appreciate success when you finally earn it and to never forget the struggle that it’s been for you. Appreciating how much of a struggle it is to succeed helps you cultivate empathy for people who also work hard but haven’t yet been rewarded for their hard work. Your success in the face of failure will inspire others, and when you succeed, you’ll be able to lift others up and help them succeed, just like someone likely lifted you up and helped you succeed.
Success will be even sweeter because of this rejection
Although it feels good to win, it might be pretty boring from a narrative perspective. Contrast, difficulty, challenge, surprise—these are the things that make life interesting. If you fail, you’re helping to create one of two narratives: 1) a narrative of more failure and a poor attitude, or 2) a narrative of a few failures, several improvements, and then a resounding success.
The narrative that will unfold is not entirely up to fate. You have a hand in crafting it.
Success will be much sweeter having first failed.
There’s a quotation from the great playwright Samuel Beckett that I’ve always admired. It goes like this:
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
— Samuel Beckett
As most students know, whether they’re artists, athletes, or mathletes, competition involves failing. The cold reality of the world is that there will ALWAYS be an unequal distribution of success. It’s literally not possible for everyone to win, for everyone to rank first, for everyone to reap the exact same rewards.
When you’re rejected from your dream school, however, it hurts. It’s no different than losing a big game, getting a failing grade on a test, being passed up for a job, having a novel rejected by publishers.
But J.K. Rowling dealt with dozens and dozens of rejections before FINALLY finding someone to publish Harry Potter. All those people that rejected her? The joke’s on them. Rowling is likely SO much more appreciative of her success because she experienced the sting of rejection so many times.
Or take Jack Ma, who founded the massively successful site Alibaba. He was rejected from Harvard not once, not twice, but MULTIPLE times. He never got in. But he never quit. And he made himself rich and built a world-renowned company.
There are people who have become massively successful WITHOUT college degrees, people who have dropped out of college and become wildly successful.
There have DEFINITELY been people who have been rejected from their dream school who have succeeded in spite of that fact.
Be one of them.
Life isn’t fair, but you can succeed in spite of that fact, if not because of it
Most of us are used to being in a small pond. Our family. Our neighborhood. Our school. Our city. Our city. All of these ponds are pretty small.
The world is a big pond. The universe is an even bigger pond. There are unfathomably big ponds out there.
The very NATURE of life is competition. Our bodies are in a competition to survive. They struggle against time, against the elements, against other life forms.
Conflict is part of nature, part of life. Rejection is inevitable, because triumphs and failures are inevitable. You shouldn’t be ashamed of rejection if you truly tried. You should only be ashamed of being too afraid, cynical, or jaded to try. You should only be ashamed if you allow rejection to dampen your spirit and turn you into a bitter and morose individual.
The fact that there will always be conflict in the world means there will always be winners and losers on every scale imaginable. There will always be an unequal distribution of success, despite our best intentions and our best efforts at ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.
It’s impossible for everyone to win. It’s impossible for everyone to get first place. It’s impossible for everyone to get into Stanford.
If this sounds like negativity to you, it’s not. It’s the truth.
Understanding the truth allows you to place your struggle in context, to become a more humble and reasonable person. When you understand 1) the staggering odds you face, 2) that you have more blessings than most if you’re even reading this article, and 3) that your attitude in the face of failure is what shapes you for future success, you will relish the fact that life is filled with struggle, suffering, and rejection. Why? Because how we conduct ourselves in the face of struggle, suffering, and rejection defines who we are as human beings.
You are more than your acceptance or rejection. You are how you respond to acceptance and rejection.
Work hard. Never quit. You’re better than you realize. Smarter than you realize. Stronger than you realize.
Make the most of college! If you do, you’ll look back from your hard-won place of success and be glad that you once failed. Failure made you into a person strong enough to achieve success and appreciate success with humility and grace.
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