When I was a senior in college, I got denied from my first-choice school. Looking back through my college counselor lens, this was not a shocking denial. I wasn’t even close to a straight-A student and this was a highly selective Ivy League school. It’s what I would today call a REACH reach. But I was naïve enough to think that my years of musical theater, my pretentious essay on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and my legacy status would tip the scales in my favor. They did not.
When I got the “no,” I was crushed. My mom set me up on the couch to cry in front of the A&E Pride and Prejudice miniseries (Colin Firth is always the correct response to disappointment). The next day, I was done crying, but I was dreading having to tell all my friends about my rejection. But the day after that, I felt…fine.
Back in October, I had submitted an application to a Midwestern school I’d never heard of, and a month later, I got a big envelope with a big scholarship. I was psyched. Even though I hadn’t spent years imagining myself going to this school, I’d never visited the campus, and I didn’t even know what the school mascot was, getting that yes ensured that no matter what happened with my elusive dream school, I was going to college somewhere.
In the end, I went to my safety school. I made friends, I found mentors in my professors, and I majored in something I loved. I had an internship and worked part-time throughout college, and when I graduated, I found a full-time job in a matter of months. When I was ready to apply to graduate school, I turned to my professors to help me navigate the process and got admitted to a program in a city I’d always loved. And I eventually found my way to a profession I feel excited about every day.
Since that college rejection, I have gotten a lot more no’s. I generally give myself a day or two to sit on the couch and cry in front of the A&E Pride and Prejudice miniseries (it holds up!). And then the next day, I feel better. Building a satisfying profession - and life - for yourself is a process. Getting a yes or a no from your dream school is the beginning, not the end. Wherever you go to college, you’ll have to decide who to connect with, what opportunities you’ll seek out, and what risks you’ll take. And so, ultimately, this is less a defining moment than a chance to practice something you’ll end up doing over and over again – figuring out what comes next.