Just this past Tuesday, May 1st, my students and thousands of others decided
once and for all where they are going to attend college this fall. As with every year, there were moments of surprise, with yes’s from schools that we expected to say no, and generous scholarships that made all the difference. There were also moments of rejection, with long-shot applications falling just short. When I get those disappointed texts, I always tell my students the same thing.
It’s okay to feel sad or frustrated or disappointed. You worked hard, and things didn’t go the way you wanted them to. Feel your feelings. But know that this is not a referendum on your future. I know, with complete certainty, that you will be okay. The quality of your college experience, your career, and the life you are going to live is still completely in your hands.
And the reason I can say that so confidently is because of these interviews. The people I’ve spoken to have gotten rejected from colleges, failed classes, and lost out on interviews, internships, and jobs. They’ve made mistakes and been fired. They’ve deferred college or dropped out of school or opted against college altogether. They’ve changed majors, changed universities, and gone back to school decades later. They’ve made compromises because of money or their families or geography. They’ve been told yes and no, many times over.
And yet, when I get to the end of our interview and I ask them if there’s anything they would change about how they got to this point in their careers and in their lives, almost invariably, they say no. They say it almost apologetically; they admit that it’s a cliché. But the truth is, most people wouldn’t change anything because they’re happy with where they’ve ended up. And in all likelihood, you will be too.
This doesn’t happen by accident, of course. The stories I’ve collected are filled with moments of risk-taking and vulnerability and, occasionally, a leap of faith. There’s also a healthy amount of luck and privilege underpinning these success stories. But more than anything, there is an openness described best in my recent interview with Scott Reardon: “You have to look at the doors in front of you, and if one opens, it might not be what you thought, but don't be afraid to walk through it, because you don't know what's on the other side.” It’s that openness that I try to encourage in my students when they’re applying to college, and it’s something I hope they’ll take into their university experience and beyond.