Transforming Rejection into Strength

As the oldest daughter of divorced parents, I acted as a mediator and the only constant in my brother’s life. My parents were teenagers when they had me, forcing them to put college on hold, so attending college became my metric for success. The fact that my success was the glue that kept my family from falling apart even further placed a compounding strain on my mental health throughout my childhood. Failure was not an option. 

My path to success began with joining the student council in 3rd grade. Why? Because joining the student council in 3rd grade would lead to joining the student council in 4th grade, 5th grade, and so forth so that eventually, I would become student body president in high school. Universities love to see “student body president” on a resume, but, in my adolescent mind, that alone wouldn’t cut it. Every university receives applications from student body presidents. I needed to do everything to make myself stand out and avoid rejection. I needed to be everything—straight-A student, National Honor Society officer, cheerleader, volunteer, and even Future Farmers of America member. My list of extracurriculars was never-ending. Thus, college applications would be a breeze.

Leading up to college applications, my worries extended past what to major in or what universities to apply to. I worried most about my financial situation, which hindered me from attending whatever university I desired. Acceptance mattered to a point, but what really mattered was whether colleges would offer enough scholarships. If I didn’t receive scholarships, I wouldn’t be attending college.

I applied to several safety schools—some in Texas to stay close to family and some out of state to keep my options open. I dreamed of going to New York University, but its applications opened months after the others.

While applying and waiting for admission decisions, the burnout from overworking myself for years caught up with me. A lifetime of stress developed into mental illness. My diagnosis of clinical depression and severe anxiety defined my senior year. Along with the typical identity struggles of a 17-year-old girl and COVID-19 ruining key senior year experiences, the perfect storm I lived in made rejection more excruciating than ever.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when the universities released their decisions. Baylor University? Deferred. Texas A&M? Rejected. University of Texas? $700 in scholarships per semester. In addition to the fact that I could not afford tuition with this scholarship, I felt I had failed. If I were good enough, UT would’ve offered 10x the amount. And if I wasn’t good enough for Baylor or Texas A&M, how could I be good enough for NYU, my dream school?

I sat with these thoughts for months while awaiting NYU’s decision. The rejections, waitlists, and deferrals put me back in the shoes of the little girl who felt like every argument between her parents resulted from her failure to communicate. Everything was personal, and rejection was the natural result of being undesirable. If a university I didn’t even want to attend didn’t want me, why would anyone want me as a student, a friend, or even a family member? That’s when it hit me. Why would I care about a university’s opinion that I didn’t even want to attend? Allowing these external judgments to sway my self-esteem would only keep me from following my dreams and finding where I belong. Soon after this realization, NYU released admission decisions.

March 30th, 2021. I was sitting in 8th-period Statistics when I got the email. I waited until the bell rang and for the majority of the class to leave because I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone when I got rejected. Mission failed! I cried in front of my teacher, Mrs. Compton, because the first word in the email was “Congratulations!” Not only did NYU accept me, but they offered me an almost full tuition scholarship.

The idea of college kept me afloat in high school. No matter my mental state, if I could make it to college, everything would be okay. While being accepted into NYU didn’t cure my depression, my college admissions experience taught me how to deal with rejection without letting it impact my mental health. Why did some universities reject me while others didn’t? I submitted similar applications across universities. I had the same grades, the same extracurriculars, and the same goals. I was the same person. I could spend my entire life figuring out why some spaces want me while others don’t. If one place doesn’t recognize my worth, another will value me even more, opening the door to greater opportunities.

I realized I don’t belong at Baylor or Texas A&M. Not because I’m unworthy, but because I belong at NYU. I now study Business and Political Economy through a unique degree program and minor in Psychology. I’ve studied abroad in London and Madrid and plan to study in Sydney next Spring.

Rejection is the most humbling feeling, but don’t let the sense of unwantedness destroy your self-worth. You can’t avoid rejection, but you can control how rejection affects you. Stay resilient and never stop trying to achieve your goals. But if you’re ever in a place that makes you feel worthless, don’t be afraid to change places. Everyone belongs somewhere. Your job? Finding that somewhere.