For almost every high school junior, senior year means one thing: College decisions. Usually, the college process starts up in the summer and students make the rounds of tours and scour College Confidential for the best tips and tricks to get into school.
As for myself, I began the process without having a my mind set on particular school. My parents and I had compiled a initial list, which my guidance counselor combed through adding her own choices. As I started my application and supplements, I became stressed and nervous about my indecisiveness. I wanted to apply early decision (ED) to a school, but I feared binding myself to any college. I grew envious of my peers that knew exactly where they wanted to go. They already had an entire wardrobe of college gear and would excitedly gush about their dream school's traditions, campus and classes.
As the weeks dwindled down to send in ED applications, I made my last college visit to Duke. I didn't know too much about the school, only its amazing reputation and wild basketball fans. However, once I set foot on campus, I fell in love. I listened avidly to my tour guide talk about life in Durham and took in beautiful buildings and manicured greenery. Duke had everything I wanted in my school. The academics, the location, the food, the sports and clubs, all checked off in my head. Upon leaving the campus I said to my mom, "I think I found my ED school."
I was ecstatic. I finally knew where I wanted to go. As soon as I got home I set to work perfecting my essay and supplements, growing more and more excited each day at the prospect of going to Duke. I poured over pictures of the campus and researched sororities and clubs. I dreamed about participating in Duke's service programs abroad and imagined I scrolled through Instagram pictures of students camping out for the Duke vs. UNC game, admiring the creativity of the students' blue and white game day gear.
December quickly approached, and my entire school was buzzing. Everyone knew who had applied ED and was eager to hear back from their schools.
On December 15, I went through the day unable to pay attention or eat. The hours dragged on in school as I heard students making predictions about who would get into each school. I was practically counting the minutes until decisions would come out. Every senior knew that I was going to hear back that night, and many people wished me luck as I passed in the hallway.
When the clock turned seven that night, I took a deep breath alone in my room and clicked the login button on my portal. My palms were sweating and I could barely breathe as the page loaded. Finally, the Duke logo popped up on my screen accompanying a few lines of words. I read the first sentence three times before I could understand what it said. My brain couldn't process the simple sentences on the monitor in front of me. I had been rejected. My heart sunk and I couldn't suppress my sobs. It felt like my future was ruined and all my hard work had been for nothing. Furthermore, I now had no school I really wanted to go to, nor did I have any other applications that were finished. My sister and parents hugged me and reassured that I would find another school, but I felt empty and numb. Friends brought me an ice cream cake and tacos and tried to comfort me. My phone was flooded with apology texts as I sat miserably in my room, my heart breaking every time I saw a college commitment post on Facebook. I refused to go to school the rest of the week and continued to be unpleasant in every way.
With only two short weeks until applications were due, sheer panic set in as I realized I had no other applications done. I had been so confident and invested in Duke that I neglected to put the necessary time and effort into any other school. With a college advisor, I grudgingly made a new list of schools and began the feat of finishing over 40 supplements before January 1. Before the clock struck 12 on New Years Eve, I was officially done applying to college.
Dream schools are dangerous. It's wonderful to love a school and work hard to try to get accepted. However, putting all your eggs in one school-sized basket is risky. Nothing is guaranteed, and every passing year college acceptance rates dip lower and lower. Dream schools can prevent you from opening your eyes and heart to other options. Even when I was accepted to some amazing schools, all I could do was compare them to Duke. Even after several acceptances, I was still disappointed. It took some inspiring words from one of my favorite teachers and serious contemplation and consideration to realize that Duke was in the past. There was physically nothing I could do to change the decision, and I was the one in control of my future. Instead of dwelling on my rejection, I started researching schools that I had been accepted to and learned of their likeness to Duke. New doors had been opened to me and all I had to was take the first step towards a school. That happened to be the University of Virginia and I couldn't be more excited to start my journey.
My only advice in the college process is this: Spending a few hours at a school and falling in love doesn't mean its truly the right school for you. You may be stopping by the bookstore and buying shirts, sweats and, of course, a phone wallet embossed with the school logo, but don't put all of your heart into one school. Be hopeful you get into your dream school, but if it doesn't work out, its not meant to be. Don't get hung up on a rejection. Use that rejection and let it inspire you to work harder. There are plenty of amazing schools, you just have to be open to finding them.
Lead Image Credit: Ali Acker