The decision letter for your top school is clenched between your hands. This is it. For weeks now, your friends have been receiving their letters, and now it's your turn. You're shaking with anticipation, and the image of you spending the next four years strolling the campus of your dream school fills your head.
You slip the envelope open, and then it happens.
The words "we regret to inform you" mark your paper in neat black-and-white, and suddenly it feels like all the air has been sucked from your lungs. Your throat starts to close up. Everything starts to feel hazy.
I can promise you, however, that it's not the end of the world.
Dealing with a college rejection is difficult. It can make us question our sense of self and our sense of worth. We feel that all of our hard work has led up to nothing. While this isn't the case, there are plenty of ways to work through such a trying time.
1. Cry it out.
As humans, our natural response to frustration or sadness is to cry. Even in events of extreme happiness, the body uses crying to balance our emotions.
When dealing with something as emotionally and mentally taxing as a college rejection, crying is one of the first steps in moving forward. Dr. William Frey from Regions Hospital claims that most people feel better after allowing themselves to cry. On top of that, he also claims that crying is important, because it relieves the stress of emotional duress that could potentially have physical effects on the body (like high blood pressure).
Letting yourself cry not only has physical benefits, but it also humanizes our experience. It lets us know that what we are feeling is normal, and our body has a natural response for dealing with those feelings.
2. Look on the bright side.
It can be nearly impossible to find a silver lining when you've had your heart set on the perfect college. It seems dismissive to say "everything happens for a reason," but it is important to understand that something good can come from something so frustrating.
Sometimes, it becomes easy to use past disappointments as a means to a newly-forged path. Maybe the tuition was a little too high, or maybe another school you applied to will give you better financial aid, or offers a more in-depth program for your major. Identifying the positives may be very difficult, especially when you've already highlighted all the best parts of your dream school already, but trying to find the good in the situation can help to soften the blow.
3. Don't beat yourself up.
We have a tendency to look at rejections as definitions of our worth. We take the idea of not getting accepted to your dream school and equate it with not being good enough. Nipping that idea in the bud is one of the best ways to move on from being turned down by a college.
It's normal to feel disappointed, angry or sad. As listed before, letting yourself cry about it is healthy and definitely encouraged. Dwelling on a college rejection and labeling it a failure on your part, however, is not encouraged.
An important aspect to take into consideration is that hundreds, sometimes thousands of students apply to that same college, all competing for a limited number of spots. Other students, at the same time as you, are also experiencing that same feeling of disappointment. A series of numbers and an essay making up your application is not the correct unit of measuring you as a person, and a rejection from a college should not define you. Regardless of the decision made by the college, you are still the same person you were before, deserving of love and happiness and success.
4. Channel your feelings.
The reason that most gym memberships go unused is a lack of motivation to actively get up and go to the gym. The reason most people don't start their great American novel is that they don't know where to begin, and again, lack motivation. The same can be said for a number of hobbies or interests, so why not turn your college rejection into an opportunity to motivate you?
Maybe the idea of getting into a different college propels you towards studying harder, writing a better essay or doing more community service to add to your resume. Maybe the frustration is the kick in the behind you need to clean out your closet, to take up running again, to write that song or finish that poem. Taking the maelstrom of wicked, negative feelings and repurposing them into something more positive like a hobby or activity can help clear your head and feelings.
Using the college rejection as motivation for something like exercise can actually be one of the most healthy options in coping. Exercise not only improves physical health, but, as Elle Woods taught us, allows our body to release endorphins, improving our mood.
5. Talk to someone.
We've all been to the point where it seemed more painful to talk about something than to simply brood about it. When it comes to dealing with something major, however, talking to someone who is willing to listen can be more beneficial than trying to deal with the emotions on your own. Professionals agree that keeping negative feelings bottled up can lead to anxiety, nausea and headaches. Having a friend, parent or teacher to talk to can help limit these symptoms as well as preventing further ones.
Additionally, having someone you can confide in can also put a different perspective on the situation. It may be hard to understand why something like this would happen, especially when you feel you've done everything right. A friend or sibling, who would probably also agree that there's nothing else that you could've done, might be important in helping you rationalize the situation and make you feel less alone in your suffering.
Sometimes, if you aren't looking for discourse so much as a place to vent, opening up to a friend can allow you to verbalize everything you've been feeling inside. Putting names to the emotions can help you move on from them, once you understand what they are. A patient that comes to the hospital can't be treated until the doctor knows that the causes of the symptoms are. Similarly, you can't move on from these feelings until you understand what they are, and having a friend beside you can help make sense of everything.
Getting rejected from your number one school may make it seem like your universe is falling apart. However, one closed door doesn't mean there's no other way to making your dreams happen, and one rejection certainly does not diminish your worth. Being upset is perfectly OK, but letting an inconvenience hinder you, not so much. Accept your feelings of disappointment and sadness, and try to move on with your head held high.
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