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Aug 28 2016
by Megan Cho

4 Things I Learned After Not Being Accepted to Ivy League Schools

By Megan Cho - Aug 28 2016

It's college season! Which can hold a very different meaning depending on where you are in life; As a high school senior, that means the dreaded college application deadlines are coming up right around the corner. For those who have graduated, it means entering the bottom of the food chain as freshman...again. For me, it's the latter.

As I get ready to start this new chapter in my life, I've been reflecting on my experience of applying to college and the lessons that stemmed, surprisingly, from my rejection letters. On March 31st, aka Ivy Day, I remember anxiously checking the time and logging into the admission portals as the clock hit 5 P.M. When the page loaded, my eyes quickly skimmed the first sentence on the glossy screen: "Dear Megan, We regret to inform you that..."

I was rejected from four Ivies that day, and, at first, it was definitely a blow to my self-esteem. I remember feeling a mixture of dread and uneasiness that bubbled slowly throughout my entire body. Strangely, I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed because surely these rejections meant that I wasn't good enough... right? That I was unqualified, unprepared, unwanted. I felt that these rejections had somehow devalued who I was as a person. I didn't want to tell anyone about them, because I feared they would think the same. But I soon realized that a college decision shouldn't make anyone feel this way. I've moved on from that experience, and I'm no longer embarrassed about my rejections (Like, I'm posting an article on the World Wide Web about it) and here's why you shouldn't be either.

1. There's A Big Difference Between Being Upset and Being Embarrassed

To make one thing clear: I'm not saying you should be completely unaffected by your college decisions. It's normal to be upset over a rejection for a little while, but embarrassment is an emotion that shouldn't be part of the college process and just goes to show how distorted our reactions to college decisions have become. It's okay to feel down, but it's unhealthy to think that a rejection has changed you, deemed your efforts worthless or lessened who you are.

2. It's Not All About Your Qualifications

Many colleges state that the majority of their applicants meet their qualifications and could do well at their school; however, there simply aren't enough spots. If you weren't accepted to your dream school, it usually means you didn't fit the specific demographic they were looking for. For the purpose of this article, let's consider the "majority" to be 60 percent at a school that receives 40,000 applicants. That means 24,000 students were qualified but only around 2-3 thousand were accepted. 24,000 qualified applicants? That’s enough to fill this baseball stadium in Nebraska to max capacity.

The numbers show that, most of the time, it has little to do with your qualifications, that typo on your common app or the fact that you got a B in calculus. Or perhaps it is. (I doubt it.) The point being, you will never know the exact reason why you weren't admitted, so you should never jump to the conclusion that your abilities fell short. There are so many factors that go into college decisions and some of those factors (where you live, your ethnicity or your parents' occupation) are simply out of your control. Most importantly, getting that rejection letter doesn't invalidate the hard work you put into your applications, studying for the SATs or even passing that notoriously hard AP Chemistry exam. (Don't worry, your suffering is over.)

3. Repeat After Me: I Shouldn't Let a Group of Strangers Determine if I Am Good Enough - An Outcome of An Application Does Not Change Who I Am

Oftentimes, we see someone's reputation completely changed by an acceptance or rejection letter. "Did you hear so-and-so got into this prestigious school?" And suddenly, this person — their intelligence, abilities, character and high school experiences — is re-envisioned in terms of the standards for that college. And vice versa. Of course, acceptances are really exciting things and we should be happy for those who have worked hard for it. No need to be resentful or jealous. All hard work deserves recognition (whatever form it comes in) and bitterness is for the weak!

Sometimes admissions officers see your potential and admit you, and sometimes they don't. But that doesn't mean that your potential to succeed has decreased. Plus, though admissions officers can get a good overall picture of who you are, they rarely get to see a level deeper than that; they won't know about your contagious laugh or the fact that you always remember people's birthdays, about your peculiar hobbies that didn't make it on to the common app, the quiet moments of self-discovery that can't be put into words or the small acts of service that you deemed too boring to ever write about — the things that make you the innately human specimen that you are. These qualities are special and unique to you; cherish them, and don't let a couple strangers dismiss them. Rejection? Acceptance? Deferral? You are still you, 100 percent.

4. A Decision Doesn't Define You

It's been a couple months since the end of my college process, and I've learned not to define my self-worth or my high school experience on rejections...or acceptances for that matter. As college season nears, I'm still going to be that person who color-codes all her notes, I'm still that person that can't finish telling a joke because I'm laughing too hard and I'm still a quirky teenager trying to find my place in the world — I'm still me. I'm writing this article in hopes that, having been open and honest about my rejections and sharing my insights, it will spare even one college-bound hopeful the self-doubt, embarrassment and heart-ache that they don’t deserve. 

Lead Image Credit: Cameron Hughes 

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Megan Cho - University of California, Los Angeles

Megan is a freshman at UCLA majoring in Global Studies. In High School, she was a member of the marching band and speech team. In addition to writing, she enjoys making pottery, photographing food, and writing modern calligraphy. Check out her minimalist-themed Instagram @meeegan_c

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