I’m sorry that you didn’t get an offer of admission from the school that you had dreamed of attending and that meant so much to you in a variety of ways. I understand how heartbroken you are, and I see how confusing and painful this is as you try to make sense of what happened and what it means for your future.
I’m also glad that you reached out, because you’re not alone in these feelings right now. Thousands of high-school seniors have received at least one admissions decision like yours, and for many, this loss will have hit them especially hard—partly because it’s typically the first disappointment of its kind in a young person’s life, and partly because college admissions have become less about finding an exciting place to grow and learn, and more about winning a trophy after years of grueling self-sacrifice. The thinking goes: If you got admitted to your top-choice school, you did everything “right” and your years of sacrifice were well worth it. If you didn’t, you did something “wrong” and, as you wrote, your “accomplishments mean nothing now.”
Going to college represents a step toward adulthood, so I want to offer you another perspective—one that will serve you well not just now, but also in your life as a full-fledged adult.
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First, taking some time to grieve your loss is absolutely okay. Whenever we hope for something and it doesn’t happen, we lose an entire future we had created for ourselves. At the same time, though, consider that these futures are imagined futures. In other words, even if you had gone to Brown, your actual experience would almost certainly have been very different from how you’re imagining it now. You say that Brown was your “dream school,” and that’s exactly what it was: a dream. So do spend some time sitting with your loss, but remember that the loss you’re grieving is of an idea you had of what Brown would be like, and that this idea and reality would probably have diverged.
Second, most adults experience many rejections in life—romantic, personal, professional—and you will weather them better if you don’t interpret them as a referendum on your worth. In 2020, Brown University had an acceptance rate of 8 percent, which means that most applicants get declined, even though most applicants are perfectly qualified to be there. Colleges try to create an interesting class, and that entails mixing together lots of different kinds of people. Maybe they had too many applications from people who did Model UN when they needed a saxophonist. Maybe dozens of applicants did meaningful volunteer work, but of those, they admitted the one who came from a less populous state than California. And maybe someone who looked similar to you on paper got in not because the school didn’t want you, but because the gender ratio was skewed female and it needed more male or nonbinary students. Sometimes what we think of as rejection is actually just a case of not being accepted.