Gosh, it has been such a busy fall and I have clearly been a failure as a blogger lately! I will start posting regularly again once things calm down a little. Today, though, I felt inspired.
As many of you know, I visit about 30-40 colleges per year. Often times it’s easiest to do them in spurts, on pre-conference tours with other counselors. These marathon visits are absolutely exhausting because it’s school after school after school, but we get great face time with the admissions officers, and the visits are much more in-depth than they’d be if we just signed up and toured a school as a member of the general public (although I do those too). During the past few days I have been to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University, University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross College, St. Mary’s College, and Goshen College. Tomorrow is Purdue University, Valparaiso University, and Bethel University. Then I am headed to Louisville for a conference and finally to check out the University of Kentucky in Lexington before heading back to DC. My feet are about to fall off :)
The reason I’m blogging today is not to share information about those schools, although I do want to post more about my visits because I have learned a TON. I’m writing a post because staying in South Bend has really made me think about the crushing disappointment of college admissions decisions and how they can be so utterly devastating for a teenager.
When I was 17, there was nothing more in the world that I wanted than to go to the University of Notre Dame.
I don’t think my desire to go to ND was based on anything concrete besides a really fun weekend visit on campus when I was a junior, but I had made up my mind and ND it was. My college counselor told me that despite my high SAT scores, it was a stretch. Obviously, though, she did not know what she was talking about. Of course I was going to get into Notre Dame! I had worked so hard!
When I think back to myself as a teenager, I was pretty savvy, or at least I thought I was! I went to boarding school, was very independent, thought I knew more than everyone about everything, and I was highly skilled at convincing people to give me what I wanted. I zipped up and down the Northeast Corridor on Amtrak most weekends alone or with friends, and even had elite status on my favorite airline because I was so used to jet-setting all over the place! The thought that Notre Dame would not accept me was a concern, sure, but I really did believe that I would get in. I deserved it. Just like tens of thousands of my peers did :)
Most teenagers believe that they are invincible. The rules do not apply to them. Common sense does not apply to them. Graphs and scattergrams on Naviance and Scoir do not apply to them. Girls, by the way, are much worse than boys when it comes to this.
When I got outright rejected (not even deferred!) from Notre Dame, I was SHOCKED. Devastated. Hysterical.
Of course, it wasn’t about Notre Dame at all. It was about the fact that I really wanted something that I couldn’t have. Man, that is a really hard lesson to learn. That no matter how badly you want something, how badly your parents want it for you, or how many people you can sweet-talk, it’s not going to happen. That is absolutely crushing, but it’s also part of becoming an adult and slowly realizing how the world works.
I see this same scenario play out year after year, and what I certainly didn’t realize at seventeen is that it’s even more devastating for the adults involved than the teenagers. To watch your child be rejected - it’s like a dagger to the heart. It’s just horrible. Especially when there are lots of tears involved.
So if find yourself in this position in December (which some of you will, given the absurdly low acceptance rates that we are sure to see yet again), here are my words of wisdom: getting rejected from Notre Dame was the best thing that could have happened to me. I really mean that.
It’s like that movie Sliding Doors: if I had gotten into Notre Dame, I would not have ended up at Wash U, which had an incredibly flexible curriculum that allowed me to graduate a year early without too much trouble. If I hadn’t graduated early, I wouldn’t have decided to “take a year or two off before law school”. I’d probably be an attorney somewhere with piles of paperwork on my desk instead of having a blast on my entrepreneurship journey. I would definitely not have met my husband the week after I graduated when I was 21, wouldn’t have my kids, and so forth.
Much more importantly, though, I wouldn’t have gotten the wake-up call I needed to understand that life wasn’t fair and that things were not always going to go my way - whether I “deserved” them or not. This rejection, as painful as it was, represented a turning point that helped me become the person I am today and had a very positive ripple effect on many other areas of my life. 18 years after I first stepped foot on this campus, I can truly say that I am so very grateful that things worked out the way they did.
So while there’s not going to be any bigger advocate for a student than me, know that if the dream school admissions decision doesn’t come back favorably, all is not lost. Things will work out. I promise!