Now that I’m in grad school, I usually try and block out the overwhelming stress that was senior year of high school: prom, the thought of leaving home, but maybe biggest of all, college acceptances. For years, getting into college had been the number one goal—it represented academic success and was supposed to make all the work through high school worth it. My friends and I were the type to study hard and beat ourselves up over any bad test scores, so we were pretty invested, but at my school that was also the norm. When we reached the end of March (and a few people I knew had already gotten into their schools via early applications), I was really biting my nails.
I remember April 1st because 1) it seemed like a cruel day for so many colleges to notify their students—who wouldn’t look at their acceptance and think it was an April Fool’s joke?—and 2) because that day I got rejected by every school. My friends and I were sitting in Spanish class, our final period, and our teacher was getting suspicious about why so many people kept going to the bathroom (an excuse to stealthily log into the library computers and check results) when a guy came back and announced he’d gotten into Cornell. I looked around. Everyone had the same dumb look on their face: not expressing congratulations, just worrying about themselves. The flood of college decisions had started. When class ended, we all rushed off to the library like a mob.
My friends loaded their emails faster than I did. All three of them had gotten into at least one school they liked, one of them had gotten into two. Finally I pulled up my set of emails and there they were: the rejections. I quickly closed the browser and took off.
I felt cheated, angry at myself for not working harder, but more than anything, embarrassed. In my weird senior logic, I assumed everyone would suddenly think I was an idiot who had faked his way through high school since I hadn’t gotten in anywhere. I thought up some excuses: there’d been issues with my CommonApp, I’d written the essay at the last minute, but I knew lying wouldn’t make me feel any better. I splashed some water on my face in the bathroom and went back to tell my friends.
They didn’t care. In fact, no one did. The truth is everybody was so concerned about their own results that they didn’t have time to pass the doomsday judgments on me or my intellect that I thought they would. I ended up getting into another school, and while I had to go home and burn my Stanford sweatshirt, the pain didn’t last long. In fact, the school I attended turned out to be exactly where I needed to be: it had a major in Creative Writing, it was in California, and it helped me meet some of the most important people in my life. The initial shock of half a dozen college rejections felt brutal, but just a few weeks later, the pain was pretty much gone.
I guess the one thing I would say to any antsy college seniors out there is this: wherever you end up, you’re going to be fine. I realize that sounds cliché and lame but I mean it. I know people who got into Princeton and had a miserable four years, and I know people who decided to take gap years at the last minute and came back with stories of wrestling boa constrictors and falling in love with French magicians. My big mistake was putting too much weight into what my peers thought of me—I wanted to get into a “good” school not because it was a good school, but because it would impress people—but five years down the line, nobody remembers who got into where, or who wore a stupid Stanford sweatshirt to school every day before April 1st when it mysteriously disappeared (cough cough). If you get a long list of rejections, then sure, grab a couple friends and go light off some fireworks, do something to shake off the negative emotions, but just remember that it’ll all be okay, even if it feels like the end of the world, and soon enough you’ll be sitting in Iowa snow writing SparkLife posts about the experience. (Actually no, don’t do that. Choose a warmer place than here. I hear Florida’s nice.)