As college decisions roll in this month, many students are experiencing a feeling they’ve never experienced before to a significant degree—failure. Getting a denial from your dream college is actually not a failure at all. You worked hard and should be commended for your efforts. But it can certainly feel like failure when all your effort and desire to attend just didn’t seem to pan out.
This is one of those times when advice you get today will actually be a lot more helpful in the future, but here it is. You will actually be better for this.
The high school universe of college preparation sets up a vision for teens where perfection, at least on paper, is actually attainable. Some students will complete the high school years having earned perfect grades, perfect test scores, and a list of accolades that demonstrates there really was no room for improvement.
But if even those seemingly perfect students decide to maintain their drive to be successful, they’ll eventually learn that perfection is not possible, and that failure is inevitable. That’s reality, not pessimism. Read the biography of just about any successful person in any field and it will include some failure along the way. And part of what makes someone successful is their ability to learn, regroup, and bounce back.
I know it’s disappointing not to get the admissions news you were hoping for. Nobody expects you to shake it off overnight (though if you can, please do!). But don’t beat yourself up. Don’t do an autopsy of your admissions process in an effort to discover what went wrong. Don’t second guess your essay topic or scold yourself for that B- in bio or regret that you didn’t sit for the SAT a fourth time. None of those things take you toward a productive outcome. And they just make you feel worse.
Instead, remind yourself how many of your college goals can be accomplished at those schools that said yes. Hold your head high, secure that your hard work will pay off no matter where you go. And most importantly, remember that experiencing this disappointment means that you’re part of a special group who sets and pursues goals even without the guarantee that you’ll reach them. That’s the mark of a successful person. And so is a productive reaction to this news.
Everyone who aims high occasionally falls short. Everyone also needs to learn how to respond productively when things don’t go as planned. If you receive disappointing news this month, consider it your crash course. That level of disappointment was going to happen for the first time at some point—you just got your first out of the way. Use it as your opportunity to learn, regroup, and bounce back. Wherever you go to college, if you can get those skills down, there will be no stopping you.