This phrase is thrown around a lot this time of year. Many lucky students have an extra bounce in their step because they just received an acceptance letter from their “dream school”—Their top choice, the cream of the crop, the big cheese. That school, the Big Kahuna, equals the path to success (in the eyes of the student).
But what about the students who received a rejection letter from theirs? Does that mean they will be any less successful in life?
Of course not. In fact, they may have a slight advantage because they’ve already had their first taste of rejection and have learned to overcome it. Even more useful, they’re having to come up with a Plan B. And trust me, it can be a path to success, too.
At this point in the year, most students have had a chance to digest at least some admissions news (Not all admission notifications have been sent, so don’t panic if you haven’t heard back from all the schools you applied to, especially if you applied Regular Decision). For those who got a rejection letter from their top choice, most have picked themselves back up and have started moving in a different direction. However, I know there may be some lingering doubts about Plan B and some sadness that Plan A didn’t work out.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my own story to demonstrate that everything happens for a reason (as cliché as that sounds), and that drive, determination and perseverance are more valuable than a college label.
When I started the college application process during my senior year of high school, all I could think about was getting out of West Virginia. I was from a very small town, and more than anything, I wanted to experience life in a big city. More specifically, I wanted to experience life in New York City. Go big or go home, right?
I had strong grades and an impressive list of extracurriculars, and I was positive that Columbia University would accept me. Or NYU at the very least. I was so confident, I only applied to schools in NYC. It was only after some strong convincing by my father that I agreed to apply to the local college, Marshall University, a ten-minute drive from my hometown, as a back-up option.
Unfortunately, the rejection letters from the New York colleges started pouring in. (Yes, college consultants get rejected, too). My confidence quickly faded. I broke out in tears and then broke out the sweatpants (Aren’t those the universal clothing of kids moping over rejection letters?).
Then, Marshall accepted me. But I wasn’t excited. I felt trapped in West Virginia and thought I wouldn’t get as good of an education at Marshall as I would at a school in New York.
What I quickly learned, though, is that your experience is what you make it. Plan A is great. But Plan B can be great, too. Heck—there are 26 letters in the alphabet… Try out Plan E and see where that leads. This time in your life is all about learning and experiencing and then using your new-found knowledge to prepare for future adventures.
On a side note, something else Marshall taught me was that it probably wouldn’t have been a wise idea to move 12 hours from home, from a town of 3,000 people to a city of 8.4 million at 18 years old. I didn’t know how to do laundry. I couldn’t cook. And I’d never even seen a subway before. The culture shock, in addition to getting acquainted with college life, might’ve been too much for me to handle.
For that reason, and so many others, Marshall turned out to be the perfect fit for me. Not only did I receive an invaluable education, Marshall opened a lot of doors that I never thought possible. I was a journalism major and quickly became involved with the student radio and TV stations, as well as the school newspaper. I had wonderful professors and made life-long friends. I became a huge fan of Herd football, loved walking across the beautiful campus and felt a great sense of pride in saying I was a Marshall student. I quickly realized that it didn’t matter that the college was close to my hometown… It was where I was meant to be. It wasn’t time for me to leave West Virginia because it still had lessons to teach me. Through Marshall, I was able to get a job as a reporter at a local TV station before even graduating college, and I am a firm believer that those specific experiences, both in and out of the classroom, helped me to get accepted to grad school. I ended up going to Columbia.
Final lesson: Timing is everything.
As a college planner, I encourage students to have faith in life’s journey. A rejection letter may not make sense now, but in time, you will see the value in it. And I hope you’ll be grateful for the opportunity to blaze a trail you didn’t even know existed.
I believe in dreaming big. But I also believe the occasional reality check is healthy. Now, take Plan E and strut down that path to success.