Zaynab E.

Confessions From The College Front Line: The Weight of the First Rejection ​

The college process does not become truly real until the first rejection. It isn’t until you read “After careful review of your application, the admission committee is unable to offer you admission at this time…” and walk into the college counseling office and get a big hug from Ms. O’Grady that you realize the weight of the college process. Submitting the application pales in comparison to what it feels like receiving the first decision—stop—rejection.

At this point in the year, I regard the college counselors as gods. Everything they say I believe, I repeat to myself, I praise, and I write down like an affirmation or prayer. Most of their advice seems obvious and easy to follow—that is, until you’re in the thick of it.

In our college process class last week, the counselors did various hilarious skits showing people receiving or reacting to decisions. In one skit, an overzealous mother interrupts class. In another, a girl opens her decision in class next to her friend who applied to the same school. In another, a girl talks about getting into her “safety” to a girl who had that school as her first choice, etc. I vibed with these skits and was fully prepared to heed their classic advice: “Stay in your lane.” Then came this week.

The counselors’ advice flew out the window the second real decisions started to be released. I have heard back from three colleges, and most of the decisions for my peers are trickling in as we speak. I found myself asking people about their news, opening my own decisions in class, and talking about college constantly. Thankfully, I was on Thanksgiving break when I received my first decision, so I didn’t have to find a way to process the news while being around those also receiving similar life-changing news. But being at school and getting news has truly illustrated how monstrous the process is. What should be a personal process of self-discovery becomes a very real and very public parade of humiliation.

The college process is horrid in a million ways, but the worst part is the way it manipulates young people into seeking validation. There’s nothing so humiliating than grasping for worth and having to be accepted to and rejected from many of the exact same schools as your friends. In this week alone, I had six friends hear back from early decision schools. I got into one school and was denied by another. The emotional ups and downs are exhausting.

Picture it: 10 girls slowly arriving to school, one girl tells her friend that she got into X University, and they begin to jump up and down screaming and hugging. Directly behind her is another girl clearly about to cry because she got rejected from that same university. It’s hard enough dealing with your own disappointments, but it breaks again and again every time I watch my friends feel that same disappointment. I don’t know which is worse: the heartbreak of disappointment or the stress in anticipation of a decision.

To make matters that much worse, add the public layer of social media. Instagram could have made a killing in royalty fees for every time a student mentioned or posted about a school acceptance just this week.

I’m honestly excited for people and champion them as their futures take shape, but I do admit sometimes a terrible aftertaste of my own selfish greed. Comparison really is the thief of joy—my own and the joy I might express for peers. Sometimes when a peer gets into a fancy, big-name school, I start researching acceptance rates and selective schools immediately. I compare my own stats to the rest of the admitted class, and I slowly become ashamed that the school that I got into has a generous or rather accommodating 67% acceptance rate. Sometimes when someone is accepted to a “good school,” I’m more incredulous and indignant than I am enthusiastic. Needless to say, this time of year is a complicated and uncomfortable place to be in as a senior.

So here is my story. Early on in the college process, my best friend and I decided that we were going to tell each other everything about college as we go through it. We are very close and generally regard ourselves as mature and compassionate, so we thought this was a good healthy decision in which we could genuinely support each other. I started receiving decisions much earlier than her and immediately told her when I got in. I showed her the letter, and we were ecstatic together. Then we realized that we had applied to three of the same schools.

When she received her first acceptance, I received my first rejection, and to make matters worse, we were on the phone together. It was the exact same school.

We both knew this was a possibility, but somehow, back in September, that possibility seemed like a distant reality, a very, very distant reality, but I had faith in us and faith in our friendship that we would never succumb to the petty jealousy and angst that beset so many teenagers.

At first, the phone call was very uncomfortable. I wanted her to feel just as happy as I did when I told her about the first school I got into, but I regret that in her moment of joy, she will always remember the touch of discomfort because she knew I hadn’t gotten in. In some ways, I am grateful for her merciful kindness and sensitivity to my own feelings, but I am also saddened that she couldn’t fully enjoy her acceptance. It was a messy situation.

Though the initial intense discomfort began to wear off not long after the phone call, I know my best friend’s GPA, and she knows mine. We have both read each other’s essays. We know each other’s strengths and struggles. And here’s the best part: we also still and always will accept one another, which is worth far more to me than any college decision. That’s a future and a friendship I’m willing to root for.

My friend and I have now agreed that being on the phone while we open a decision to the same school is a terrible, horrible, awful idea. We will still, of course, share our outcomes, but perhaps, we’ll do it privately first and make sure to give each other space. Our friendship deserves it.  Our own peace of mind deserves it.

I cannot fix the awkward sadness and sometimes uncomfortable joy that is floating around the senior class, but I can acknowledge it and work to provide my peers with extra support. We are all in the same place. We all have immense worth and value. No rejection can change that.


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