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Future On Hold: Dealing With College Rejections

Updated: May 31, 2022

So the colleges you applied to rejected you.


Now what?


If you are anything like 17-year-old me, you are probably feeling like a wounded animal who wants nothing more than to hide away from the world while it licks and whimpers over its injuries. Been there, done that. It sucks.


Here is how it happened for me:


During the college acceptance season of my senior year, I was in bad shape. All my friends were getting into the schools of their choice. I watched them receive acceptances and congratulations in dizzying quantities while I… didn’t. As an aspiring theater major, I only threw my hat into six rings: three University of California schools (Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Irvine); -two smaller out-of-state schools (Cornish College of the Arts in WA and Hofstra University in NY); -and one way-out-of-my-league-but-I-was-still-stubborn-enough-to-apply Juilliard School.


I found out pretty early on that UCLA and Juilliard would not be in my academic future. Both schools required an in-person audition in addition to the standard application. I performed two monologues for each school and then sat through a series of questions where the panel of school representatives assessed my improvisational capabilities. One panel asked me how a Hostess Twinkie gets its filling, and I froze. I remember answering as honestly as possible by saying something about a machine poking a hole in the middle. Since then, I have replayed and reanswered that question in my head: sometimes I imagine myself saying that aliens make the filling mysteriously materialize; other times, I see myself getting right up in their faces while yelling “You think you’re ready for that truth?” and then going on a conspiratorial rant about the Twinkie filling industry. You live and you learn, I guess.


Then I was accepted into both Cornish and Hofstra, but would be unable to attend due to the cost of out-of-state tuition. Big bummer, but I still had two whole schools left to hear from. I was still optimistic.


Finally, I received emails from UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine. I opened them with bated breath: I was rejected. From both schools. Not even waitlisted - I was straight up denied. Did not pass go. Did not collect $200.

Disbelief flooded my nervous system. Disappointment bubbled inside of me like molten magma churning within a volcano. Distress that seeped down to my core made my blood sting with a heat I was sure would burn other people if they stood too close. I had worked so hard for four years, getting good grades in AP courses and taking on multiple extracurricular activities, just to be turned away by institutions that were supposed to want me to grow. My parents tried to be supportive by telling me my worth was not tied to these rejections, that college acceptances are tough to come by even for those with exceptional GPAs and resumes.


None of what they said stuck.


While these rejections were not – and never are – personal, I took them very personally. As someone desperate to leave my hometown and experience the start of my big, bold, beautiful life adventure, I felt like my future had been shut down instantaneously. This was all exacerbated by the fact that it was 2012. The world was prophesied to end, and I was afraid that all my chances to find love, own 7 dogs in a New York apartment, and headline at least three world tours as a singer-songwriter were now officially nothing more than wild fantasies.


Being 17 during the supposed “end of the world” is rough (but you already know that).


After the rejections, I slipped into something I later learned was situational depression. I sulked a lot and secluded myself from family and friends. Activities and people that once brightened my world suddenly lost all color. It took me several months to fully begin shaking the sting of those college rejections and pull myself back together. While deep in the throes of my sadness and despair, my mom had taken it upon herself to find out if there was anything more I could do. In her research, she discovered that the UC system had a process to appeal rejections. I initially rejected the idea in a fit of self-pity. Those schools had not wanted me in the first place: why would I try applying again? After a few lovingly stern words from both of my parents, I came around to the idea. We had felt that of all the UCs I applied to, UC Irvine was the best fit for me, so naturally, we also decided that that was where I would appeal my rejection. Call it intuition; call it stubborn determination even: we would make UC Irvine change their minds.

I was able to scrounge up some lingering optimism, a few letters of rec, and a new personal essay, all of which were sent to UCI's Office of Admissions.


Then I waited.


One week went by. Nothing.


Two weeks, three weeks. Still nothing.


One month passed. No word yet. I was starting to lose what little glimmer of hope I had left.


Two months came and went. It was now three days before high school graduation, which happened to be my 18th birthday. I was getting ready for my birthday dinner and steeling myself for the impending college-less walk across the graduation stage when I decided to check my email.


In there was a message from UC Irvine's Office of Admissions.


I had been accepted.


I was officially graduating high school as a future Anteater.


I started screaming, then crying, then laughing hysterically. My parents came to see what was happening, and they joined in the excitement. My brother - who is 3 years younger than me - gave about as much energy as a 15-year-old boy could give to the occasion, but it was more than enough.


So yes, I graduated high school knowing I was embarking on a 4-year college adventure in a few short months. However, I was prepared for whatever next steps I would be taking without a traditional start at a 4-year college. The heat in my veins had cooled; I was back to feeling like a person rather than a volcano ready to explode. If you received rejections from your top schools or ALL schools, you will also be prepared for those next steps when they happen. Maybe you will start off at a community college before transferring. Maybe you will take a gap year for resume building and life experiences. Maybe you will start off at one school and realize you are a better fit somewhere else, so you go there instead.


The path ahead is uncertain and uncharted. You may be overwhelmed with emotions over the current standstill caused by rejections, and that is okay. Feel your way through so you find clarity on how to proceed. There is no one right way to live life, so these current setbacks do not define your ability to accomplish your goals. I promise.


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