Dear Seniors: This Is Why It’s Okay Not to Attend Your Dream School

It was August 2017. I had just returned from a college summer school program that actually made me more nervous about my future than I was before because, after all, I expected a college summer program to prepare me for college, real college. However, the reason for my discontent was not because I didn’t enjoy my time there—it stemmed from the fact that I did enjoy my time there. In fact, I fell in love with my time there, and I couldn’t tell if I would ever enjoy going to college anywhere else.

Pulling at my own hair, I frantically logged into my Common Application portal to perform my daily review of supplemental essays. My Common Application portal looked more and more like the top college rankings list on US News. If I don’t get into any of these schools, I’m screwed, and I won’t be successful, I thought to myself almost every day for three months straight.

We live in an age of academic prestige. But in today’s day and age, with the pressure of academics and the competition of extracurriculars, we soon learn that we are set up for failure. My failure, which ultimately (and yes, very cliche) led to become my success, began with top-tier Ivy League schools, all of which left me relentlessly crushed as I wondered what had not set me apart from the other hundreds of thousands of applicants.

In the wretched month of March, I prepared to open my first of seven letters. Did the interview go well? Were my numbers good enough? Was I confident about my supplements? Did I even think I would get in?

Thousands of different questions bombarded my mind during a time where calmness would be most helpful. Nonetheless, I opened the letter to exactly what I feared: rejection. Then, I opened letter number two, three, four, the list goes on. I really didn’t expect to get into any of the schools anyway, but the emotional toll on a teenage girl having to open eight rejection letters in a row hurt me. I felt worthless because if these schools didn’t want me, who would?

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and that is a fact. Fast forward months from then, and I am now a proud incoming freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, a school I never thought I would be attending—I hadn’t even visited the campus until after I was admitted. UCLA was not the school with the dream summer program I wished to convert into my undergraduate experience. In fact, UCLA was a fleeting thought in my mind, a result that seemed almost impossible for me to achieve. But the more and more I explored the result, I realized how Los Angeles is a better fit for me than anywhere else.

I realized that maybe UCLA was the dream college experience I sought for all along, and I learned that it’s okay to fall out of love with one school and find another you learn to love even more.

I still remember the thrill of opening the letter—the long-awaited Congratulations! letter I sought from just one school. I read it so fast that I had to double check, reread the letter, refresh the browser to make sure it wasn’t fake, and wait a few days and reread the letter again to make sure that I actually got in. Through this, I learned that the universe has cunning ways of showing us where we belong.

I am a passionate believer in the fact that everyone will end up where they belong. On the flip side, I also believe that humans are inherently driven by passion, and with the right amount of ambition and motivation, we can push ourselves toward a certain goal. Many people these days tend to define their own identities based on certain aspects of their life. What we all must realize is that no school, job, or salary will ever define our worth, and it took me an abundance of college rejections to figure that out.

Because I’ve had my fair share of rejection letters, I can say one thing for sure: you know that little disclaimer message admissions officers include at the end of their rejection letters to make it seem less harsh? You know, the short “Please understand that our inability to admit you to our incoming class in no way defines you as a student or person.” Yeah, that’s real, and that’s true. As an immediate reject, I used to read that phrase with indignance. However, as an enrolled college freshman, I read it with belief and approval.

The school that anyone chooses to attend will never define who they are because who they are depends on their upbringing, their growth, their passions, what gets them out of bed in the morning, and what motivates them toward progress, not the school they will be attending for a short four years of their lives. And even after those four short years, you can always go somewhere else to continue your educational pursuits, but no matter where you go and where you land, you will always be you, and nobody can change that.

Although there is no doubt that these Ivy League schools hold prestige for good reason, there are also many famous and influential figures who have had a modest educational upbringing from several smaller institutions. For example, famous politician Ronald Reagan graduated from Eureka College, billionaire television personality Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University, and bestselling author Amy Tan attended San Jose State University. Before getting hung up on any sort of premature rejection, just consider the factors that go into your future.

These renowned figures didn’t gain fame because of their undergraduate education; they gained fame because of their passion-driven success and hard work.

This may sound difficult, but it’s important to have no expectations. In this day and age, we expect simply the best and nothing less. But this only damages our own mindsets. If you are stuck in a fixed mindset, you will never grow, and your future will never progress, according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. Because, in school, you will learn how to ace a math exam or how to not cause a chemical explosion while mixing different elements of the periodic table. What they don’t teach you in school, however, is how to fail. And that is the most important life lesson of all.

So, to you nervous college applicants and transfers, I know you must hate hearing this, but the college you go to does not define you. Take a deep breath, write that essay, click the submit button, and just wait because it will all be worth it in the end. No matter how the next four years of your life unfold, you are the only one who gets to define your life, and that will never be defined by your undergraduate education.



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Hi! My name is Tiffany and I am a student at University of California, Los Angeles pursuing a major in Psychology and a minor in Film. I have previously written for The San Francisco Chronicle and mxdwn Movies, and I'm currently a video production intern with the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs. I love movies, and some of my favorite films are Dunkirk, Ladybird, and La La Land.

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Dear Seniors: This Is Why It’s Okay Not to Attend Your Dream School

It was August 2017. I had just returned from a college summer school program that actually made me more nervous about my future than I was before because, after all, I expected a college summer program to prepare me for college, real college. However, the reason for my discontent was not because I didn’t enjoy my time there—it stemmed from the fact that I did enjoy my time there. In fact, I fell in love with my time there, and I couldn’t tell if I would ever enjoy going to college anywhere else.

Pulling at my own hair, I frantically logged into my Common Application portal to perform my daily review of supplemental essays. My Common Application portal looked more and more like the top college rankings list on US News. If I don’t get into any of these schools, I’m screwed, and I won’t be successful, I thought to myself almost every day for three months straight.

We live in an age of academic prestige. But in today’s day and age, with the pressure of academics and the competition of extracurriculars, we soon learn that we are set up for failure. My failure, which ultimately (and yes, very cliche) led to become my success, began with top-tier Ivy League schools, all of which left me relentlessly crushed as I wondered what had not set me apart from the other hundreds of thousands of applicants.

In the wretched month of March, I prepared to open my first of seven letters. Did the interview go well? Were my numbers good enough? Was I confident about my supplements? Did I even think I would get in?

Thousands of different questions bombarded my mind during a time where calmness would be most helpful. Nonetheless, I opened the letter to exactly what I feared: rejection. Then, I opened letter number two, three, four, the list goes on. I really didn’t expect to get into any of the schools anyway, but the emotional toll on a teenage girl having to open eight rejection letters in a row hurt me. I felt worthless because if these schools didn’t want me, who would?

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and that is a fact. Fast forward months from then, and I am now a proud incoming freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, a school I never thought I would be attending—I hadn’t even visited the campus until after I was admitted. UCLA was not the school with the dream summer program I wished to convert into my undergraduate experience. In fact, UCLA was a fleeting thought in my mind, a result that seemed almost impossible for me to achieve. But the more and more I explored the result, I realized how Los Angeles is a better fit for me than anywhere else.

I realized that maybe UCLA was the dream college experience I sought for all along, and I learned that it’s okay to fall out of love with one school and find another you learn to love even more.

I still remember the thrill of opening the letter—the long-awaited Congratulations! letter I sought from just one school. I read it so fast that I had to double check, reread the letter, refresh the browser to make sure it wasn’t fake, and wait a few days and reread the letter again to make sure that I actually got in. Through this, I learned that the universe has cunning ways of showing us where we belong.

I am a passionate believer in the fact that everyone will end up where they belong. On the flip side, I also believe that humans are inherently driven by passion, and with the right amount of ambition and motivation, we can push ourselves toward a certain goal. Many people these days tend to define their own identities based on certain aspects of their life. What we all must realize is that no school, job, or salary will ever define our worth, and it took me an abundance of college rejections to figure that out.

Because I’ve had my fair share of rejection letters, I can say one thing for sure: you know that little disclaimer message admissions officers include at the end of their rejection letters to make it seem less harsh? You know, the short “Please understand that our inability to admit you to our incoming class in no way defines you as a student or person.” Yeah, that’s real, and that’s true. As an immediate reject, I used to read that phrase with indignance. However, as an enrolled college freshman, I read it with belief and approval.

The school that anyone chooses to attend will never define who they are because who they are depends on their upbringing, their growth, their passions, what gets them out of bed in the morning, and what motivates them toward progress, not the school they will be attending for a short four years of their lives. And even after those four short years, you can always go somewhere else to continue your educational pursuits, but no matter where you go and where you land, you will always be you, and nobody can change that.

Although there is no doubt that these Ivy League schools hold prestige for good reason, there are also many famous and influential figures who have had a modest educational upbringing from several smaller institutions. For example, famous politician Ronald Reagan graduated from Eureka College, billionaire television personality Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University, and bestselling author Amy Tan attended San Jose State University. Before getting hung up on any sort of premature rejection, just consider the factors that go into your future.

These renowned figures didn’t gain fame because of their undergraduate education; they gained fame because of their passion-driven success and hard work.

This may sound difficult, but it’s important to have no expectations. In this day and age, we expect simply the best and nothing less. But this only damages our own mindsets. If you are stuck in a fixed mindset, you will never grow, and your future will never progress, according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. Because, in school, you will learn how to ace a math exam or how to not cause a chemical explosion while mixing different elements of the periodic table. What they don’t teach you in school, however, is how to fail. And that is the most important life lesson of all.

So, to you nervous college applicants and transfers, I know you must hate hearing this, but the college you go to does not define you. Take a deep breath, write that essay, click the submit button, and just wait because it will all be worth it in the end. No matter how the next four years of your life unfold, you are the only one who gets to define your life, and that will never be defined by your undergraduate education.



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