To my dream school,
It’s not you, it’s me.
It would have been easier if it was you. But instead, your rejection, though kind as could be, felt like an ironclad punch to my gut. More specifically, it felt like a devaluation of who I was and what I could do, all wrapped up with “genuine regret” and “admiration for all you have achieved.”
It was the sobering realization that my best didn’t cut it. That what it took wasn’t something I could give — regardless of how much I honed my Common Application essay or how many practice tests I took. That I was wrong in thinking that working my hardest could get me the best there was.
That was four months ago, on a Monday afternoon at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time when I opened an email with shaky fingers. I’m choosing to write this now because selective schools around the country are in the process of releasing their decisions. Spoiler alert: the vast majority — anywhere from 70 to 95 percent of their applicants — will be turned down.
And I want to take this opportunity to tell my fellow rejectees, of whom it’s safe to say there are more than a few, to resist the urge to feel diminished. I know how easy it is to treat this news as an indication of future failure. But I could write a book on how untrue that is and how flawed the admissions game is.
I’m writing this because too many kids find themselves reduced to tears, curled into fetal positions because of a rejection letter. Too many students give the college admissions process power it shouldn’t have. Too often, we give colleges the right to determine our worth as people, rather than just as GPAs and extracurricular activities.
As young people, we tend to idealize brands. We buy into the idea that Lululemon clothes will make us graceful and elegant, and in the same way I bought into the glossy college pamphlets mailed to my house. I convinced myself that success meant getting an acceptance to a school that wouldn’t give it to just anybody, as if I needed my hard work validated.
So let’s stop focusing so much on the brand we’re buying — whether it’s $98 for Lululemon yoga pants or $60,000 a year for a private education — and remember that the most high-end option isn’t the only one that will do the job. And let’s have a little confidence in ourselves and what we can do.
When I read my denial, it felt like I had not only lost the four years I worked so hard for, but also the successful career I would’ve been set up for. So it took some distance to see the less glamorous paths to success that stretched out ahead of me.
At the time, the upside of the whole thing was that my parents took pity on me and we went out to dinner. It was nice, but Johnny Cascone’s couldn’t completely fill the loss I felt. I showed up to school the next day, my cheeks red with embarrassment, dreading telling people that I hadn’t gotten in.
Then I had to force myself to churn out ten more essays to meet the Jan. 1 application deadline. I was at the end of the college application process, which started a year before when I registered for my first SAT. And I was fed up with the fact that I was supposed to count on a faceless admissions counselor to determine my potential for success.
And decide they did. As for where I’m living next August, ask me in a month. It’s finally up to me.
So, to my dearest dream school: last summer, I walked your literal ivy-covered campus, eager to count myself among the lucky few that got to call it home. I wanted nothing more than to learn from an institution that has stood since before the U.S. was a country.
Now I know I should have realized that my SAT score wasn’t high enough, and that I really should have won more awards.
So thank you for your feigned interest in my application file; it’s truly been an eye-opening experience.
Very truly yours,
Rejected from the Class of 2019