Why Getting Rejected from Your Dream School May Be the Best Thing to Happen to You

It was March 12th: the day that Duke would release it’s letters of acceptance and rejection. Sitting cross-legged on my bed on a quiet Wednesday night, I remember feeling like my surroundings did not seem to match the intensity of this moment. I could practically hear a drum roll in the back of my head. My fingers trembling over my track pad, I clicked on the email that would determine my next four years.


Student sits on the stairs and is struggling emotionally after getting rejected from her dream school.“Dear Ms. Dalton, We regret to inform you…”

In just a few words, my plan for the future, a plan that I had been clutching onto for months, was pulled out from under me. But, the sinking feeling in my stomach was not just coming from this sudden change of plans. My very first thought was: ‘did Andrew get in?’

My cousin Andrew was somebody that my family was very impressed with. The more and more they commended him over the years for being so special, so personable, so promising, the more I felt like he was competition instead of family. Of course, I didn’t want to feel this way- I actually really like my cousin and we have always been close. But when he said that his dream school was Duke, I knew that this was when I was finally going to win. I had a much higher GPA, more extracurriculars, and better test scores. He may have been cast as the family favorite, but I was the smart one.

Nervous energy fizzled inside of me for hours, until finally my mother came home from work.

“Andrew got into Duke!” she said, “Have you heard back?”

This time, my stomach really did sink, and I burst into tears, reveling in the all-too familiar feeling of cousinly defeat. My mom held me in her arms, stroked my hair, and said what she always says when I’m upset:

“Everything happens for a reason, honey.”

And then, I got mad.

“No, mom, everything clearly does not happen for a reason. I can’t brush all of the bad things off because there is some grand reason why they happen that I just can’t see yet. The world is an unfair place, and there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. ”

Clearly I was pulling my bitter teenager card, but I really was angry. For months everyone in my family (especially my grandparents, who live in North Carolina) had been gushing over how wonderful it would be for Andrew and me to go to school together. The more we talked about our future in North Carolina, the more pressure was built around me getting in. And now, with my mom standing in front of me telling me that “everything happens for a reason”, I was furious.

I had never really been much of a believer in fate. When people say things like “this will happen if it’s meant to be”, I always thought, ‘no, things happen because either 1) you’re lucky, or 2) you make them happen.’

In the end, I decided to go to another school, a school that I had visited and felt a very strong connection to from the beginning. As I begin my junior year, I can tell you that I cannot imagine what these years would have been like had I not gone to this school. I’ve learned so much and have met so many incredible people that I wouldn’t have gotten to if I went to Duke.

For those of you who do have one college or one plan in mind, here are some things that I wish I’d known:

Things I wish I’d known about the college process

  • The admissions process is more subjective than any of us can imagine — it is not a science. If you don’t get into your dream school, that doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. All it means is that you’ll have to make new plans.
  • When fantasizing about your college years ahead, try to avoid dreaming about just one place. The pressure that comes with depending on one specific outcome can end up costing more than it’s worth.
  • It’s hard not to make plans or try and predict exactly what will happen, especially when pressure from family or friends is pushing you to do so. When your well-outlined plan for your life starts to (inevitably) steer off course, don’t panic. If life were as simple as proposing and executing plans, it wouldn’t be as fun.

I’m still not sure if everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, I think things just happen, no warning, no explanation. What I do know is that when our worlds come crashing down and it seems like there’s no way to get through, there is. It might just mean straying from the course.


  • Anonymous Student, Class of 2018



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