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Insights from a college rejection letter

I was rejected from Northwestern University.

On Dec. 14, I came home from school and awaited the outcome of my Early Decision application to Northwestern.

Yes, as an ED applicant, I was fully prepared to withdraw all of my other applications to amazing schools like SUNY Binghamton, University of Pittsburgh and Fordham University, and move 12 hours away from my family to live the dream as a Wildcat in Evanston, Ill.; I joked with family and friends that I sold them my soul.

But, I was rejected.

I don’t say it for pity or to wallow in my own misfortune – I say it because it’s the truth: I was rejected. At first, it didn’t make sense; why didn’t this letter begin with "Congratulations!"? What does "unable to offer you a place in the first-year class" mean? I fell right in their middle 50 percent applicant ACT scores, spent months tweaking my essays, and worked myself to the brink of a mental breakdown between weekly volunteer work, a part-time job, two musical instruments, an internship and maintaining a respectable GPA; so why didn’t they want me?

As you can probably guess, at that time I wouldn’t have been as eager to publicly announce my rejection. I barely overcame the embarrassment to tell my parents, because that’s exactly what it was: embarrassment. I was absolutely humiliated that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, talented enough. Why did I apply in the first place? I was stupid to think I even had a chance.

However, as I write this article 24 hours post-rejection, I find myself with two small pieces of advice for the Class of 2017 applying Regular Decision, for next year’s seniors graduating in 2018, or for any class after them.

I’m not pretending to know the ins and outs of the college admissions process but, from a current high school senior and an applicant who has faced rejection, please understand the following:

Rejection is real. Stop judging a school based on its acceptance rate; do not focus on the fact that 2 percent of applicants get in, and realize that 80 percent do not.

From experience, I can say that when I submitted my Common Application, rejection was the farthest thing from my mind. My friends and I would joke about how stressful the application process was, how we were just going to give up, how no school would accept us anyway. But those were jokes, so what do we do when it actually happens?

Optimism is a great thing, but why didn’t someone warn us about the possibility, and in a lot of cases probability, of rejection? It only reinforces the idea that if/when you do get that unfortunate news, something is wrong with you. And that being said ...

Rejection does not define you. I thought something was wrong with me. Due to the stigma built around college rejections, I couldn’t get it through my head that thousands of other ED hopefuls were feeling the exact same way as I in that very minute. My acceptances to Pitt, Fordham and Binghamton all disappeared and immediately I was a failure; a top-tier university didn’t want me, so suddenly – for some strange reason – every club, volunteer opportunity, and extracurricular lost all meaning.

From an early age, we are taught never to judge a book by its cover; if someone doesn’t know you, how can they measure your worth so easily? So why do we let college admissions offices do exactly that?

I do not attempt to paint higher education in a bad light; I only make the point to demonstrate the superiority of your self-measured self-worth to that of an admissions board.

So, next fall, I will be proudly joining the University of Pittsburgh Class of 2021. I would like to thank the Northwestern Undergraduate Admission Office and its Dean, Christopher Watson, for their consideration and kind letter; I wholeheartedly believe the decision is for the best and I’m itching to start my new life in Pennsylvania next year.

Overall, I wish the Northwestern Class of 2021 luck, the deferred students strength, and the rejected hope – each category has its own advantages and disadvantages attached.

And if anyone happens to know any students joining the first-year Pitt class next year, I’m currently on the lookout for a roommate.

Hail to Pitt!

Maya Westcott is a senior at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart.


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