Rejection is redirection

A new perspective on college admittance

Stella Bennett

College, college, college; the subject that appears to be on every high schooler’s mind. While students may not think about it the moment they walk through the doors of high school for the first time, they surely will by the time they reach their junior year. With college constantly circulating student’s brains, 83 percent of teens think about their education and career path weekly, and 53 percent think about it daily, according to Insider Higher Ed.

Enjoying his time at Middlebury College, Danne smiles for a picture in front of the campus hall on a sunny day. (Photo courtesy of Michael Danne)

Michael Danne, a 2021 Redwood graduate, had a similar trajectory to that of many students since he began thinking about college at an early age. When he first began to look at colleges, Danne quickly set his sights on Dartmouth.

“[After] the Dartmouth admissions representative came to Redwood and gave a presentation about the school, I did a lot more research about [Dartmouth] and ended up doing a virtual visit [and had] the opportunity to go visit the school [in person,]” Danne said. “I had my mind set on going to Dartmouth, and that was my number one school.” 

Many high schoolers, similar to Danne, center their academics around their dream school, leading to enrollment in countless Advanced Placement courses and rigorous schedules to “stand out” in the eyes of colleges. However, these courses often come at the expense of one’s social life or take away from other extracurriculars. 

“I remember when I was a freshman, I had this weird urge to plan out all of my classes, so I figured out [which classes] I wanted [take throughout] high school,” Danne said. “My social life was definitely impacted by the amount of time I spent at school. Looking back, I don’t think this was necessarily a bad thing because I wouldn’t be where I am now, but it definitely had its pros and cons.”

However, not everything always goes according to plan. Sometimes students hit a bump in the road, but instead of dwelling on their loss, they may have to redirect themselves. This bump can come in many forms, but one prevalent type is rejection. College rejection can be hard to overcome and can put a dent in a post-high school graduate plan, especially one which has been formulated since freshman year. When Danne was rejected from Dartmouth, he altered his path by choosing to attend Middlebury College, a private, four-year university in Vermont, similar to Dartmouth in location and size. 

Illustration by Julia Frankus

“When I didn’t get [into Dartmouth after] I applied Early Decision one, I was honestly pretty disappointed,” Danne said. “I ended up submitting my Middlebury College application Early Decision two, and I got [into Middlebury in] February, but I wasn’t super excited about it. I didn’t know if I wanted to go.”

This experience occurs frequently, according to Becky Bjursten, Redwood’s College and Career Center Specialist. Bjursten regularly manages rejections but has seen students use them as an opportunity to move forward. She suggests that instead of taking rejection personally or giving up, it is important to view it as a positive change and redirection from prior plans. 

“[Getting rejected] might be an indicator [that the school,] for some reason, wasn’t the right match for you,” Bjursten said. “It might be a healthier choice to move in a direction that is still going to support where you would like to be a year from now. Sometimes things work out for a reason.”

The phrase “rejection is redirection” has been increasing in popularity and offers a new perspective as to how to view these setbacks. As stated in an article by Sutton Full Potential, a foundation created to help people find careers, “Rejection is not meant to push you behind, but to push you forward with even more vigor and zest. It is a way of redirecting and saying: ‘You got to be smarter than this, try something else.’” 

This new way of thinking is prevalent when it comes to college season and receiving admission updates. Rejection can be viewed as a door to new and better opportunities. For instance, Danne was accepted into Middlebury and thoroughly enjoys himself there, ultimately happy he was forced to redirect his educational path. 

“I have no regrets whatsoever. I am 100 percent happy here, [and] I absolutely love Middlebury,” Danne said. “Now that I am here and have had a year at Middlebury, I honestly cannot consider going to a different school. I have had an amazing time at this school, and the people are fantastic. I cannot imagine myself at Dartmouth.”

Illustration by Julia Frankus

Not only does rejection serve as a great opportunity for a new educational path, but it can also open one’s eyes to a new reality. Christian Royal, a Redwood 2021 alum and current freshman at College of Marin, had this realization and took a different educational path than he had previously planned. Since he did not get into his top choices, the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) or the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Royal adopted the “rejection is redirection” mindset.

“[When I was rejected from the UCs,] I became more realistic and optimistic. [Rejection] acknowledges the fact that, although it sucks I didn’t get into these colleges, there are actually a lot of opportunities here at College of Marin,” Royal said. “Our tuition is paid for [by College of Marin or is significantly lower than other colleges,] we have top-notch professors and we have smaller classes. There are a lot of advantages in going to College of Marin and any community college in general.”

According to various career specialists, including Bjursten, everyone ends up in a place that works for them. Both Danne and Royal are satisfied with their college decision, even though it looks a little different than they imagined in high school. 

“I 100 percent believe [that there is a place for everyone after high school,] and I think that there is not just one place but a lot of different great opportunities,” Bjursten said. “Give yourself the flexibility to change your mind. Even after you get admitted to a school and try it out, a lot of people transfer if it is not the right match for them. If you are super happy where you are, that is awesome, but it doesn’t have to be this weighty, all-in-one decision like you have to make this perfect choice. You can find what is right for you.”

Although there is a school for everyone, it is important to love where you attend. Bjursten suggests applying to a variety of schools that students could see themselves at to enable numerous opportunities and security in the college admissions process. 

Standing in front of College of Marin, Royal positions himself for a photo before proceeding to his classes. (Photo courtesy of Christian Royal)

“A gap year is a great option, [and] community college is a great option, but do not settle for something that is less than what you want,” Bjursten said. “I think it is really important to only have schools on your college list that are schools you are interested in. So what does rejection even mean? You are still going somewhere that you thought was awesome for one reason or another. Even if it is not your first choice, it can be your 10th choice, but it shouldn’t be on your list unless it is somewhere you are interested in.”

Safety schools can often be overlooked, but finding these colleges are important because each year, colleges become more competitive. Data from the national 2022 admission results show a significant drop in acceptances, according to Prepory, a college admissions and career coaching company. For instance, Northeastern University’s acceptance rate dropped from 20 percent to seven percent this year, displaying this increased competitiveness. 

Although attending prestigious universities is realistic for some people, it is recommended that students adopt the “rejection is redirection” mindset and become okay with the fact that rejection is something everyone faces. According to a May 2022 Bark survey, 48 percent of seniors at Redwood were rejected from their top college, causing them to pursue a different path than originally planned. 

“I think that failure is really important. It is not like failure [does not] suck, because it obviously does, but your successes are [not] measured in terms of your failures. I have had my fair share of failures, … but you really just have to revel in your defeat and bounce back from it,” Royal said. “Redirection from rejection is a really important skill for making students much more resilient both during college [and] outside in their lives and their careers.”

Spending time with his friends at Middlebury, Danne snaps a picture as they walk to admire the colorful sunset. (Photo courtesy of Michael Danne)