Hey Seniors… When Decisions Disappoint, The Pain Is Real.
When decisions don’t go your way it can feel really awful — like the worst pain you’ve ever experienced. As u/CollegeWithMattie so eloquently and appropriately put it on r/ApplyingToCollege: “Not getting into the school you want fucking sucks.”
Look, I’m gonna be completely honest — It can really hurt, more than anything else you’ve ever felt before, but here’s the deal: The only way through the pain is to go through it.
You know, I’ve never gone through the specific pain and frustration of the application process that some of you are going through, but I’ve had my share of fucked up shitty experiences when I didn’t know where to turn, and I’ve felt a lot of shitty feelings. Like, a lot a lot. And here’s what I’ve learned. You can’t squash those feelings. You have to accept them and let them in in order to be able to process them and move through them. If Mattie’s post resonated with you, that’s great — because it means that you are on your way.
That numbness is your body and brain protecting you from pain, but it’s ok to feel the pain. In fact, the only way to get past the pain is to go through it. Basically, what you resist, persists. So, as hard as might be, you’re gonna have to give in to the anger and sadness, and maybe even angry cry a little and bash some pillows. If you have a hard time tapping into your anger because you’re suppressing it, I suggest reading Mattie’s post. Also, what works for me is listening to angry music. I’m Gen X (not a Boomer, no), so Eminem, Smashing Pumpkins, and Linkin Park are my gotos, but you have your own I’m sure.
Go on a Bear Hunt
In my family, we call getting through the pain, Going on a Bear Hunt. I don’t know if you know the children’s chant, but it’s about making your way through the tall swishy swashy grass and the thick oozy gooey mud and the fast rushing river. To me, those are metaphors for the emotions we have to pass through as we make our way through anger, sadness, and disappointment. It’s like making it through the train tunnel; if you can’t go through that darkness, you get stuck there.
The RAIN Technique
In Mindfulness, we use the RAIN technique to help go through the emotional process of dealing with pain.
Recognize your feelings.
Accept and acknowledge that they are there.
Investigate them — what caused them, why are you feeling them
Non — identify; know that they are just feelings and feelings come and go. You are not your feelings. You are the observer of your feelings.
Look, having feelings is part of being human. That pain and hurt and anger you’re feeling is part of your humanity, but those feelings come and go. They are ephemeral. What feels super shitty right now is going to pass, and on the reverse side what feels super amazing right now is also going to pass. That’s what feelings do.
What Can You Control?
Probably the most relevant lesson to the college admissions journey is the understanding that we can only control our own actions. Here’s what you can control — essays, activity descriptions, grades, and test scores to a limited extent.
What’s Out of Your Hands?
You cannot control the number of other well-qualified students applying to the same schools as you or the institutional needs of the colleges on your list; you cannot control the mood, preferences, or predilections of the admissions reader.
Colleges are creating a class, so they’re looking for people with varying strengths, abilities, talents, and backgrounds — not a uniform set of people who are all robotically doing the same stuff. Also, certain departments and faculty might have more needs at different times. Or sometimes board members and presidents tell them what they should keep in mind as they create a class. This is the part of college admissions we have no control over and why applicants need to not take any of it personally.
Forget About Dream Schools
It’s not about finding the school of your dreams; it’s about finding the you of your dreams. When you’re drooling over that perfect school with a perfect campus and perfect classes, you’re not dreaming about any one school. You’re dreaming about who you want to be and where you can become who you want to be. I invite you to think deeply and figure out what it is about that certain school that makes you consider it your dream school — because I guarantee that your dream isn’t out there in the form of a college; it is in YOU.
Eat Ice Cream
This is all to say, you’re gonna be ok. Allow yourself to be sad or angry. Sometimes schools make really stupid fucked up decisions and it’s not a reflection on you, but that doesn’t make it easier to swallow right in the beginning. So be sad or angry. Smash some pillows, angry cry. Go through those feelings and then go find ice cream.
Because every year, after they’ve cried, pounded their pillows, licked their wounds — and eaten ice cream, seniors come back here on A2C and talk about how even though applying to college was the most stressful experience of their lives, and the final outcome wasn’t what they were expecting, they are proud of how much they have grown and learned about themselves
You Still Have Options
I know you might not want to hear this now, but when you’ve gone through some of the pain and come out the other side, it might be helpful to know you still have some great options. You can take a gap year, go to your local community college or apply to some of the many amazing colleges that are still accepting applications.
The Name of a College Does Not Define You
Now, there’s a lot I love about Mattie’s post — but I am gonna argue this little point (maybe that’s because I get old and cranky sometimes, I dunno): College does not define you. You are the same badass today that you were last week and last fall and when you were five. And you’re gonna find yourself and grow — no matter where you go to college, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the name on a sticker on your laptop or the bumper of your parent’s car defines who you are. It does not.
And guess what? That doesn’t make the pain any better because you still gotta go through it — which sucks. But, guess what? Life sucks sometimes. And sometimes it’s really awesome. Axl Rose says it better, “Life sucks, but in a beautiful kind of way.”
Resources for you to check out if you’re feeling shitty:
My Post about Baby Trees and Resilience (in this metaphor, you’re the baby tree)
Rick Clark’s Blog about Decisions — My fave quote: “I’ve said before and will say again, college admission decisions are not character judgments or predictions of future potential. Getting in, or not getting in, to a particular school does not change who you are, the feasibility of your goals, or define you in a substantive way.”
u/PeteyMIT from Mit Blog — My fave quote: “all I can remind you is that success is not always a straight line. That your path isn’t something MIT sets you on, it’s something you make yourself.”
Jeff Schiffman from Tulane — My fave quote: “What the college admission committee thinks about your application for admission is not what they think about you as a person. It’s not a reflection of your character or potential. Admission Offices around the country have internal goals and requirements that they are looking for, and just because you don’t meet them, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be a great college student somewhere.”
And of course, Mattie’s awesome post: My fave quote: “You were never an ethereal snow angel manifest designed for greatness. You’re a teenager who really wanted something — more than you’ve ever wanted in your life.”
I’m gonna leave you with these wise words from u/VanderVolted: “Have you ever played a game where you won every time? It can be fun, but they don’t mean as much. Waitlist/Defers/Rejections suck, they really suck, but they make the good things ( whether they have to do with college acceptances, or even just completely separate things) much better
If you’re feeling so upset that you might do self-harm, Read This:
When you feel like life is beating you down like this, your brain actually makes physical changes and isn’t working properly. You can’t trust it to make wise decisions. It was described to me as if someone was putting heavy weight after weight on your brain — eventually, it’s going to collapse. So give yourself time. Give your brain time to heal. Talk to your parents, get to an ER, reach out to your therapist, or school counselor.
Resources and Hotlines
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273–8255 (TALK)
Crisis Text Line: Text “START” to 741–741
Tl;dr: When you don’t get the decision you want, it really hurts. The only way past that pain is to go through it.