Getting Rejected From My Dream School Was One Of The Best Things That Ever Happened To Me

I turned a time of confusion into the time of my life. | Source: Shutterstock

I turned a time of confusion into the time of my life. | Source: Shutterstock

How many of you aren’t going to your dream school this fall? Well, you aren’t alone. When I started college I was in your shoes.

Opening my rejection letter from Sarah Lawrence left me in pieces. It wasn’t like the other rejections from my biggest reach schools that I didn’t really want to go to that badly anyway. This was my dream school, the place where imagined studying creative writing and meeting all sorts of cool creative writing friends who I would do edgy creative writing things with.

But I didn’t get in and that rejection hung over me for nearly a year.

I decided to go to Howard University instead, a historically black college in Washington D.C. It wasn’t my first choice, or my second, or my third. But ultimately I preferred it to the other universities I received acceptances from. I thought that it would be a good experience to be in a largely black environment after years of going to majority white private schools. So while I was still disappointed by my rejection, I was getting pretty excited about the prospect of trying something new and different.

But when I arrived at Howard that August for orientation week, I was met with something I didn’t expect: Culture shock. I hate to put it that way but it’s true! Transitioning from high school to college is hard enough, but suddenly being around people who actually looked like me on campus was so different than anything I’ve ever experienced.

I had a hard time making friends beyond acquaintances who lived in my hall. We’d go to the dining hall together, sometimes hang out in the hallway and do homework, but that was about it. I never had a problem making friends, so this had a severe impact on my enthusiasm. That then led to a decline of passion for college in general. I kept hearing about all the fun things that my friends were doing at their schools and I felt more alone than ever before. I soon started the transfer process for another chance to get into my dream school. I thought I’d be so much happier there.

But then something unexpected happened next semester. A girl who I remembered seeing in my English class the semester prior was now in my art history class. We immediately bonded over being freshman and having slightly offbeat taste in clothes, so we quickly became friends. When I told her that I was considering transferring, she looked at me like I was crazy.

She asked me why I wanted to leave, and for the first time in months I was forced to seriously ask myself this same question. By now it was spring and I was taking classes that I actually cared about, I had a friend who was awesome to hang out with and I was at a school that provided me with such a unique and powerful experience as a young black chick.

I’m stubborn, so admitting my own ignorance is both humbling and irritating. But I reluctantly realized that it was true what they say (whoever they is): College is what you make of it.

Putting some serious thought into what I really wanted out of my college experience helped ease my woes. | Source: Shutterstock

Putting some serious thought into what I really wanted helped ease my woes | Source: Shutterstock

Yeah, it’s cheesy, it’s vague and it might not seem like it holds much substance, but it is so true. Of course I wanted to be somewhere else when I wasn’t making much of an effort to make new friends, when I didn’t join organizations or show off the magnitude of my potential in my classes–even the general electives. Of course my former dream school sounded like paradise compared to a place where I wasn’t doing whatever I could to make my experience as amazing as it could have been.

After a long period of adjustment–to college life and East Coast weather–I realized that I didn’t want to leave. I was staying right where I was. Three years later I graduated from Howard with awesome friends, memories of a semester abroad in London, deep attachment for some of my most influential professors and a unique educational experience that I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else. Sure, my college wasn’t perfect by any means, but nobody’s is. And when I think about the fact that I was so close to abandoning it all for a place that I idealized beyond the point of recognition, I can’t help but shudder. My life would be so different if I got into my dream school, I’d be so different. Going to my historically black college helped build me into the person I am today and, frankly, I don’t think I would be the same person if I decided to spend another four years at a mostly white educational institution. Also, being in D.C. was just awesome for college.

I don’t really believe in a higher power, but sometimes I think that things–good and bad–happen for a reason. It’s not always a good reason, of course, but a reason nevertheless. I think that Howard was the place I was meant to be, the place that I needed to be. That’s why getting rejected from my dream school was the best thing that could have happened to me: Without that rejection I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and that makes all the difference in the world.

So for those of you who aren’t going to your top choice school this fall, remember to make the best out of your situation. If you still don’t feel right after a while, maybe it is best to consider transferring. But try not to start school with so much negativity because it’ll cloud your perspective. You never know what experiences and opportunities you’ll miss out on if you start college with a negative outlook full of fantasies about where you think you’d rather be. Make the most out of the hand you’ve been dealt and see what happens. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up having the time of your life.


Are you or were you unable to go to your dream school for college? What advice do you have for girls in that situation? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Cami

    You’re my favorite poster on this site! Thanks so much for the inspirational words! 🙂

  • Hilarity

    Two years ago I graduated from high school. For roughly eight months prior, I had been fighting so hard for my spot at my “dream school.” My family has a legacy of four generations at this particular college, so I was determined to get in. I was wait listed twice and finally rejected after those eight long months. I felt like such a disappointment and failure to my mom. But it turns out, I was the only one truly upset by it. My parents just wanted me to be happy with my decision, they weren’t mad or disappointed in me at all. I was so bitter and upset that a lot of my friends were accepted, I never wanted to think about college again. I ended up going to my second choice, a small school most people in my state haven’t heard of. But, one great thing about this little school is that it is ranked as the very best university for nursing (my major) in my state, so I have to be proud of that! If I had to go back and do it over again, I would choose my school again without a doubt. I’ve made so many great friends and memories already, and met the love of my life (cheesy, I know). If you don’t make it into your dream school, don’t give up hope! Odds are you will love the school you do go to.

  • Ann

    I definitely needed to read something like this. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  • Jillian

    I applied to 10 different colleges…and I was rejected by 6. My top two choices were Emerson College in Boston and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Both schools said no. I even got rejected by this tiny school out in the Berkshires.

    Curry College, where I am now, was one of my second-choice schools, after Wheaton College and before Bridgewater State. Curry was a good school, it had a beautiful suburban campus and their English curriculum had what I was looking for. Plus, they seemed to be really interested in me, offering me special little perks (not like I’m bragging or anything). They were the first school to accept me and I got the letter on my birthday, which made me very happy after the rejection I had a few weeks prior. But I still had my heart set on UMass or Emerson, which seemed to be ideal for budding novelists.

    Wheaton College had put me on their wait-list and that was a school I also really liked. They offered me a chance to come in the spring semester instead of the fall. If I hadn’t already heard from Curry, I might have taken it. I never heard back from that school, so I’m guessing the answer was no.

    I was accepted by Bridgewater State and Merrimack College as well. Ultimately, I decided to go to Curry after I went to the Accepted Students Day with my dad. They had what I wanted in a school and what I needed as an English major. Also, it was far enough away from home that I could live on campus and be independent, but not so far away that my dad could bring stuff over for me if need be.

    Going to Curry College was the best choice I have ever made.

    I agree with Ashley–college is how you make of it. If you don’t try to keep an open mind, all you will see are the negatives. You prevent yourself from making friends, enjoying your classes, and getting the full experience college offers you.

    If I hadn’t gone to Curry, I never would have met my best friend Justine or had a blast every day with the same nine students, TA, and two professors that made up my First Year Seminar/Writing Workshop 1 class. I never would have discovered that maybe journalism is not really my thing. And I never would have developed the confidence to take on being a First Year Seminar TA, which I start in the fall (at the end of the month, actually, when I go back to school). I’m very, very happy and, most importantly, my grades show it.

    If I had gone to UMass Amherst, I would have been an anonymous face in a huge sea of students and invisible to my peers and the professors. At Curry College, I have a name, I’m not invisible–I’m Jillian.