A Letter To Students Upon Receiving Their First Rejection

By: Caroline Koppelman

I hope this process has not made you feel like a failure. You are not a failure, and deep down you know that. Even the most confident and strong-willed person will feel crushed when getting rejected from a university. But as cliche as it is, a rejection is not a reflection on who you are. That said, rejection is the worst, especially during this process.

The college application process can be demoralizing and anxiety-inducing. For most students, it makes insecurities bubble to the top of your mind. You are acutely aware of all of your flaws and bad grades and anything that has ever made you doubt yourself, big or small.

You spent months trying to think of the most creative ways to answer repetitive questions, you hired professionals, had five people read your essay, and wrote and re-wrote dozens of supplements. You didn’t tell anyone how you were feeling, though, because you didn’t want to seem weak. It was as if expressing any uncertainty would jinx your application. You bottled it up.

I’m sorry you have had to spend the past few months trying to prove yourself to these large institutions that ultimately made you feel unwanted or inferior. But you are good enough, and you know that. I know emotions are bubbling to the surface.

Your parents are freaking out vicariously while trying to be comforting. Don’t feel like you let them down. They don’t doubt your ability or potential, they’re just sad to see you hurt and feel helpless because they can’t fix it.

This feeling won’t last forever, and your rejection isn’t really about you. It is hard to accept, but at its core the college admissions process is a numbers game. Applicant pools have grown exponentially in size and even the most qualified are rejected for reasons sometimes concrete and sometimes random. You know you are more than just a number or SAT score.

Over the past few years, the college admissions process has turned into a frenzied mania. More qualified kids are applying to more schools because they are afraid of not getting in anywhere. You know this, because you did it. As a result, there has been an increase in rejections. The schools can’t simply triple in size because their applicant pool tripled. Those who get rejected are often qualified for admission, but it is a numbers game. The truth of the matter is that the admissions committee of Dartmouth could make three or four more Dartmouth classes out of all the rejections. As hard as is it to accept, it is not about you. The process reduces applicants to a statistic. You know you are more than just a number or SAT score. At the end of the day, it is not a reflection of your character.

I’ve been there. I’ve felt that sting of rejection. The embarrassment, frustration, and confusion. These feelings of utter failure will pass, and you will get in somewhere that you will love. Even if the school you attend wasn’t initially your dream school, you will find professors who challenge you, friends who make you grow, and experiences that stick with you forever. I guarantee that in a few weeks it will feel like a distant memory, and in a few years you won’t remember at all.

In this moment, when you feel like you have no control and your world in crumbling remember to put things in perspective and to breathe. The sooner you dive back in and start to get excited about a whole host of new schools and opportunities, the sooner you’ll begin to question what made your first choice seem all that appealing. You’ll probably find some place you love even more. This is your first rejection, it probably won’t be the last, but it is far from the end. More likely than not, it's an opportunity for a beginning.