The Importance of Rejection


“You’re getting in—don’t worry about it.”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t even have applied anywhere else, there’s no chance you don’t get in.”

“You totally deserve to get it.”

Ever since people found out I was submitting an early decision application to Northwestern University, almost every conversation I had was littered with comments like those. Although I’d respond, “Oh, you never know with the college process—there are no absolutes,” the hundreds of comments that I’d receive started to get to me. “I’m getting in,” I thought to myself secretly. “There’s no way I don’t.”

My decision was supposed to come out sometime on Thursday, Dec. 15, so imagine my surprise when I got an email the day before telling me there was an update in my portal. My heart beating faster, I took a deep breath and opened the email on my phone:

Dear Ashna:

The admission committee has concluded its evaluation of Early Decision applicants to Northwestern University. I am sorry we are unable to offer you a place in the first-year class. Since Northwestern was your top choice, I understand this news is very disappointing.

I choked, unable to breathe. Wait, I must’ve read it wrong. I opened the email again and went to the portal, this time reading the entire letter. The Dean of Admissions went on to talk about how it wasn’t anything about me that made Northwestern reject me. It was a bad breakup line: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Well obviously, it was me because the admissions committee decided that it didn’t want me. Did I not try hard enough? Did I not show enough demonstrated interest in the school? Why didn’t they want me?

I came to school the next day—my self-esteem shot—the room full of whispers and “helpful” looks of pity. “I can’t believe you didn’t get in,” people said to me over and over again. In my mind I scoffed, thinking, “now, that’s not a helpful thing to say at all,” but putting on a brave face, I fake-smiled, staying silent but keeping in mind not to say that in the spring, when regular decisions arrived. Instead, I would’ve preferred a comforting hug and no words.

Sitting in math class, I couldn’t help but think, “Why am I even trying to learn—colleges don’t care.”

I thought of all those late Saturday nights when my friends were at parties, while I stayed in to study. Colleges obviously didn’t care about that.

I thought of those weeks when I got fewer than five hours of sleep a night, trying to add finishing touches on my project. Colleges obviously didn’t care about that.

I thought of those times I studied in the library during lunch instead of spending time with peers. Colleges obviously didn’t care about that.

Was it worth going that extra mile when the result was failure? At the time, I’d respond with a resounding no. It was completely, without a doubt, no question about it, not worth it. I should’ve gone out, I should’ve gone to bed earlier and I should’ve gone to lunch on time.

But it’s been almost two months since then, and I’ve come to terms with it. And I’m not just saying that. During a form meeting earlier this year, Ms. Skerritt came in and talked to us about rejection. She told us that it would hurt more because this was one of the first times we had ever been told “no.”

And this is so true.

After going to Hockaday for 14 years, I have been built up and told that I can do anything- that I will one day change the world. Idea for a club? Easy, just start one. Bad grade? Talk to my teacher and see how I can make it higher. There’s nothing that I couldn’t do.

But there was nothing I could do about getting rejected, and I think I needed to know that. In life there are always moments where you can’t do anything about the circumstances you are in, despite what my years of Hockaday have told me.

So yes, I was rejected. But that doesn’t mean that all my hard work immediately meant nothing. Those nights I spent studying at home, those days I didn’t sleep and those lunches I didn’t eat gave me the ability to prioritize and gave me a strong work ethic, important skills that I will one day need to thrive.

I needed to hear the word “no,” in order to fight harder. And it took me a while to realize that it wasn’t my fault. So thank you, Northwestern, for introducing me to the real world where I won’t always get what I want. I know that it was the best thing for me, even if I couldn’t accept that two months ago, and the perspective I’ve gained since then is imperative to my future success.

Commentaries are the expressed opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of The Fourcast staff, its adviser or any member of the Hockaday community.

– Ashna Kumar – Web Editor-