Inside the Mind of a Rejected Applicant

Inside the Mind of a Rejected Applicant

Laura Vance

I did everything I was supposed to do, and still, the letter begins with a “thank you” in place of a “congratulations.” After the initial jolt of disappointment, the rest of the words blur together in incoherence, my disbelief replacing any former ounce of literacy.

I did it all. Sure, I’m not the Valedictorian, but being part of the top 5% of the graduating class of 2022 is an impressive statistic with a high price. That price is merely following The Rules, an unspoken set of guidelines that coerce you to your breaking point while simultaneously guaranteeing your acceptance into any college of your choice. The Rules are as follows:

  • Earn good grades. The semantics of this, of course, are open for interpretation, but the general understanding is all As (100s if possible).
  • Earn respectable standardized testing scores. This means AP tests, the SAT/ACT, and any other set of randomized, capitalized letters that the College Board can scheme up. Perfect scores if it can be managed.
  • Be involved in extracurriculars. Academics are not enough. Involvement in clubs, sports, or other activities is not only encouraged, but expected.
  • Demonstrate leadership skills. Not only must you “be involved,” but you must also possess a leadership position in said clubs, sports, and other activities. It’s all about being one step ahead of every other applicant.
  • Be involved in your community. If you have free time, you are wrong. Volunteer service hours, beyond the minimum to graduate, demonstrate a higher rigor of compassion and dedication to one’s community.
  • Accomplish something of notability. The aforementioned five rules are what it takes to even be considered by a university, but this unique requirement for going “above and beyond” is what truly sets you apart as an applicant. Did you publish a book? Did you singlehandedly jumpstart a local charity? What is something you accomplished that no other applicant could claim credit for?

I – like many future, current, and former Seniors reading this – painstakingly followed these rules, more than willing to be consciously manufactured by a school of prestige if it meant I could wear their colors for the rest of my life. After all, as famously claimed, you’re not paying tens of thousands for an education. You’re paying for a degree, and there is a general understanding that the distributor of that degree can make all the difference in your future job market.

I – like many future, current, and former Seniors reading this – painstakingly followed these rules for over four years of my entire life, a process and mindset that began as early as middle school. Over four years of my hardest efforts put forward, and all I received was a printed “thank you” in 11-point, Times New Roman font. And it sucked. So, I suppose this is who this article is for: everyone who worked too hard and never reaped their reward.

At least in my case, almost everything I accomplished in high school was for My High School Transcript. Every football game I didn’t attend, every night out I turned down, every suppressed urge to take a short nap was done so I could proudly put things like “4.3 weighted GPA” and “Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper” and “private piano teacher of a self-founded studio” on my resume. And when my promised acceptance letter didn’t arrive, it not only made me wonder if my four years of dedication were enough, but if they were even worth it in the first place. That’s a scary thing to wonder after roughly thirty-nine months of sleepless nights and stress-induced acne and unhealthy clumps of hair falling out in the shower.

Student under an abundant amount of stress. Photo from Adobe Stock Images.

Was it because I got a 91 in Algebra 2 instead of a 97 my sophomore year? Was it because I didn’t take the ACT one last time, just to see if I could get one point higher? Should I have gone to that service project so I could add an additional four service hours for my transcript? Should I have run for class president or joined one more club? Why were the years of tears and sacrifice not enough?

Did I end up wasting four whole years of my life?

All these questions reel in your mind as you dumbly read about their gratitude for your interest in their university over and over and over again… “admission has become increasingly competitive” … “we acknowledge your achievements in this very competitive process” … “we see great potential” … After all the back-breaking, neck-snapping agony endured for their sake, these empty words offer little comfort as your world is momentarily crashing down around you. Because what human being – after all the blood and tears and agony sacrificed to legitimately put a few more words on a section of the Common App – would rightfully deny that sorrowful sack of skin admission into their college? It’s unthinkable.

It’s unthinkable, but it happens every college decision season. Thousands upon thousands of successful high school students rip open letters and eagerly click on portal links, so sure of their acceptance as they excitedly await a “congratulations” that will never appear. Then, once the disappointment has morphed into defeated apathy, we console ourselves with the notion that it all comes down to luck. Stupid, wildly unfair luck. If an admissions counselor is looking at two identical applications with one spot left, who will they choose? They can’t very well King Solomon their way out of that one, which honestly makes this situation a little funny. There’s no guaranteed way to know what goes on in the backrooms of a university where futures are decided, and lifelong dreams are shattered. However, I do have to say that if this all comes down to an element of luck, I can’t help thinking, “What was all of this for?”

I suppose this is the part where I stop whining, suck it up, and say something along the lines of “Welcome to the real world” or “Life is unfair.” These universally true principles must eventually be acknowledged, yet they somehow offer even less comfort than a patronizing letter that recognizes your potential. So, to every rejected senior, both current and from years past, I offer my greatest sympathies. For some of you, a rejection might mean nothing; a mildly disappointing, albeit expected next step in the college journey.

But to every person whose dream school denied them acceptance after years of hard work, to every person who can’t quite get out of their rejection-induced funk, I am here to say that I know it’s the biggest bummer in the entire world. But I’m also here to say that your hard work wasn’t for nothing. You achieved something marvelous even making it this far through high school, and you have facilitated priceless habits that are guaranteed to make you successful later in life. It might be one of the hardest blows you will ever have to endure, at least in this phase of your life, but after spending four years with Huntingtown’s class of 2022, I feel confident in my assertion that we are all well on our way to achieve remarkable things.