What I learned when my dream school said no
At the beginning of my college visits, I fell hard for a certain school. It was the third one I visited but the first one that really stuck out in my mind long after the information session and the tour. It was everything I wanted in my college experience.
I even applied for and attended a fly-in weekend overnight at this school, which only deepened my feelings for it. A little taste of college life there was exhilarating. I felt confident that it was the school for me, and I applied early decision. (Early decision is when a student applies to a school early, usually by the beginning of November, and, if admitted, the student must attend that school.)
I attend a private day school, and the stress levels among the student body were at a boiling point. More than half of my peers took the plunge and applied early, so in a way, there was the pressure to apply early to your first choice school to prove how interested you were. The school I applied to is popular at my school, and two others committed to an early decision application too. While they were eager to hear the results, I became borderline obsessed. The school’s admissions team kept a frequently-updated blog and social media accounts, and I checked ALL of those EVERY DAY. To make matters worse, while my friends knew the exact time and date of their admissions decisions’ electronic releases, I clung to the sentence “Applicants can expect to hear a response by December 15.” That December 15 happened to be a Monday and for the whole weekend, I was a mess. I couldn’t sleep, and I thought about it all day when Monday arrived.
Right after the bell at 3 o’clock, I checked my email. Dun dun dun: The decisions were out. As everyone left the senior common area, I stayed and checked my account. Then I saw it, the sentence: “We have yet to make a decision about your application and it is deferred to the regular decision pool.” While it wasn’t a flat-out rejection, it sure felt like it. I sat there, bawling. Thankfully, no one was around while I tearfully called my mom to let her know the news. She could tell I was upset from the moment she answered, and knew the news wasn’t what I wanted. I stayed in the common area, tears streaming down my face, until a couple of my peers stopped by. I had seen one of the other applicants, a boy, before I received my decision and he calmly told me he was rejected. However, I didn’t know about the third applicant, a girl. I told the friends that had stopped by that I didn’t know her outcome. One of them, solemn-faced, told me she had been admitted. He and his friend quickly left, leaving me to continue crying.
Later that night, I went home and found out that my boyfriend had gotten into his top choice college. I was happy for him, but I was also envious. He knew what his general future held for him, but I was still stuck in the Land of the Unknown. Once he knew what my ED school had told me, he tried to console me, but I didn’t feel any better. He had no idea, since I felt like I had failed immediately in this game of college admissions. My best friend, who is currently a high school junior, sympathized but didn’t have the ability to really emphasize since she had not even started the college search process yet. My much-older brother and extended family members were so far removed from the college process, which had been very different when they were high school seniors, that their words of reassurance were kind and welcomed but lacked in true understanding.
My mom comforted me, but reminded me that when I sent the application in, we knew it was a leap of faith because I was right on the edge of this school’s statistics. She wasn’t disappointed because she knew how hard I’ve worked over the past few years. She reminded me that I was deferred, not rejected, that the school had noticed me enough to consider me again at a later point. I think she was surprised that I was as upset as I was, which made me feel even worse. I was embarrassed about how much I had reasoned with myself, how I had kept assuring myself I had a pretty good chance. Over the weekend, I had attempted to psych myself up and prepare myelf to open any decision, especially a negative one, but seeing the decision on the computer screen made it incredibly real.
Going to school the next day was difficult. While I did not burst into tears, I came close to it a few times. Most students were high-fiving each other and gleeful, while I went through the school day motions feeling sorry for myself. As the day went on, I learned not everyone was admitted early.
One of my friends, who had been more outwardly confident than me, was rejected from his early decision school and deferred from his early action school (early action is similar to ED, but non-binding). Another friend had also been deferred from his first choice but accepted early action to his safety school. It helped to know that the three of us, all ambitious students, had not quite made the ED cut. Other students said they realized the bad news wasn’t so bad; the school wasn’t really their first choice or their parents were more upset than they were. That was not the case for me. Being deferred ED seemed like such a disappointment, considering many of my classmates had gotten into their top schools and could breathe a little knowing what their future held for after graduation.
The rest of the week was difficult, but better since it was the last week before the holiday break. I was still interested in this school and sent a polite email to the admissions representative that dealt with my school, expressing my appreciation that they acknowledged my application and if I could do anything more to improve it. I met with my college counselor so I could apply to the seven other schools I considered, plus a new one that she suggested to me. She told me she was proud of how maturely I handled this decision. In the days leading up to the January 1 deadline, I polished my essays for the eight other schools and sent them off.
While writing my essays, I started to see these other colleges with a new perspective. I had ignored them all throughout the waiting game for early decision. Now, I saw that these other schools still fulfilled the requirements on my college checklist, including small class sizes, great research/internship opportunities, and the ability to meet fascinating people from all over the country/world, and the ability to explore city life (in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia). I applied to a mix of co-ed and women’s colleges, but my ED school is not a women’s college. Now I consider those women’s colleges to be my next choices if I am still not accepted to my ED school. After looking over my list, I reviewed the merits of this unique opportunity (an all-female environment) and felt that it would be an equally exciting adventure as one at a co-ed school. I realized that it was not just that particular ED college that I wanted to be at, but I was ready for college and a change in general.
I still consider my ED school to be my first choice school, but I have a much better outlook. It would be a great surprise to be accepted regular decision but I am not as anxious about this one college since I will be receiving letters from all the others at the same time.
So current juniors (or really proactive sophomores) who are reading this, no matter what happens in the college process, learn to love your whole list of schools and not get too hung up on one in particular. I’m not saying I oppose the ED option but I think that having a healthier perspective on it would have benefited me. Instead, be confident that you will be happy at any of your schools, and just a little bit happier if you are accepted at your first choice school.
When she is not hunting for the next engrossing book to read, Madi Cassidy can be found on the East Coast eating paninis, watching lots of ‘Masterpiece Theater’ productions, going for walks, and trying to communicate with her dog Phineas and her cat Lucy. Some of her life goals include traveling the world, writing a published novel, and finally learning how to dive.