April 8, 2013

Rejection Is Not the End of the Road

You’ve probably read the statistics already: Brown had 28,919 applicants and it admitted 2,649; Princeton:  26,498 applicants; 1,931 accepted; Yale: 29,610 applicants; 1,991 accepted – just to name a few. 

Admissions officers had a daunting task this year:  They faced more applicants than ever before, many with fantastic grades, scores, and resumes as well as literally thousands of interesting and well-written essays.  But there are only so many slots, and without “over-booking,” the schools had to make some very hard decisions.  Some of you were elated; others ranged from crushed to baffled and disappointed.

I’ve held the hands of students who spent weeks trying to figure out why they didn’t get in.  Some raged against others who had the advantage of legacy, sports, or special talents.  Others thought that their lack of ethnic or geographic diversity put them in the “no” pile.  And of course, the regrets:  “I knew I shouldn’t have dropped French junior year!  I should have taken more AP courses, done Intel research, gone out for the lead of the school show!”

The truth is, rejection hurts, and it is natural to feel bad about it.  Once, during a particularly competitive year in the late 1990s, one student brought his rejection letter to his high school and taped it to the wall of our Student Activities Room.  The next day, two more letters appeared.  By the end of the week, dozens of letters were on that wall, which was dubbed “The Wall of Shame.”  The name of the wall caused quite a stir and much discussion; students came by just to read the letters; they reached out to their classmates and comforted them; misery loves company, some said…Others thought it was a terrible idea – sour grapes and all that.

Many of those students, who are now in their 30s, still remember that wall with a rueful laugh – but they also remembered that they learned to overcome the disappointment by sharing it with others.

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