69: I Didn’t Get In Anywhere

69: I Didn’t Get In Anywhere

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

I Didn’t Get In Anywhere

Suspense is worse than disappointment.

~Robert Burns

Late one evening at the end of March, I realized, all of a sudden, that the impossible worst-case scenario that my friends and I had joked about might actually come true. I was only waiting for one more admissions letter and I still hadn’t gotten into any colleges. It had been a rough week so far. Harvard—waitlist. Princeton—rejection. Brown—waitlist. Dartmouth—rejection. Georgetown—waitlist. I had one more letter to receive, from a school where I had no chance anyway—Stanford.

While preparing my college applications, I was fully aware that safety schools were conspicuously missing from my list of prospective universities. But I had been told that I had very strong prospects at a number of top schools, notably my first choice—Harvard. I hadn’t even bothered to visit four of the six schools I applied to. My theory was that I would be perfectly happy to take a gap year, so why not apply only to schools that I really wanted to attend? What was the sense in applying to a school I wasn’t excited about if, rather than attend, I would prefer to take a gap year and reapply to a more comprehensive list of schools a year later? Anyway, my application was strong enough that I was sure I would get in to at least one of the schools I applied to....

Unfortunately, the worst case scenario did come true... Stanford—rejection. That was a pretty interesting moment. Although I’d always talked about how not getting in was built into my plan, actually experiencing it was jarring.

That night marked the beginning of a strange fourth quarter for a senior in high school. While my friends were slacking off on homework and blowing off steam because they were “in,” I was continuously sending “update” letters to Harvard, Brown, and Georgetown (the schools where I still had a shot) and working frenetically to show good grades for the final few weeks of school. I was frustrated that I had to continue working hard like I had during the past two and a half years, but I expected that in the next six weeks, I’d either get rejection or acceptance letters from the three schools I was still waiting on.

I kept studying hard and received more letters telling me that I was being kept on the waitlist, even as other kids were receiving rejection letters from the same waitlists. That was just frustrating. I wanted an answer, even if it was no, so that I could figure out what to do next. Instead of giving me closure, they kept saying, “Thanks so much for waiting, and now just wait a little longer.”

By the end of the school year, I had come down with a strange strain of senioritis. I had moved decisively from frenetically working to get in, to rebellious, disillusioned apathy. AP exams were... interesting. I had five. I didn’t study for any. I managed a 5 for Calculus because it came down to whether you understood the material more than whether you had memorized enough. Physics was a different story. It would have taken a lot of studying to prepare adequately for that exam and I was in no mood to do that. What good are AP credits if you’re not going to college? I think I got a 3 out of 5 on that one. History and Spanish were about the same story.

English was certainly my most memorable performance. The exam consisted of two parts: multiple choice and essays. Before the exam, I resolved to do my best despite the circumstances. My good intentions lasted through the multiple choice section. And I must have done pretty well on it because I got a 2 on the exam and I couldn’t have gotten any points on the essay section. Upon reading the first question, my determination started dissolving quickly. My Huck Finn essay deteriorated into a diatribe about how I resented that my school made us take an AP exam for every AP class we took. I used the writing space for the King Lear essay to transcribe lyrics from my favorite band at the time, Free. I left as early as you were allowed to. I wanted to go to the beach. A year later I wrote an e-mail to my English teacher apologizing. I knew the AP board had sent him our essays.

After AP exams were over, my classmates and I left school to do five-week internships (my high school’s creative response to under-motivated fourth quarter seniors). I was still waiting. I didn’t have much hope left that I’d get in anywhere, so I started making plans to study abroad in the fall. Just before graduation in mid-June, I finally received the thin letter from Brown.

When the summer started, I was in a pretty reckless state of mind. I saw no reason to be responsible. After all, I’d spent the better part of my high school career making sure that I’d have a strong college application and that hadn’t gotten me very far. I actually didn’t think too much about the two waitlists I was on during the first half of the summer. I was intent on enjoying my last summer at home with all my friends. And, I was waiting to actually get rejection letters before I started working on college applications for the second time.

On July 20th I went out to get the mail and found the last two thin letters. I was pretty accustomed to this routine and was ready to throw them out unopened. You can only read, “Due to the strength of the applicant pool this year...” so many times. My mom sadistically insisted that I open them. I complied. I opened the letter from Harvard: “We regret to inform you that...” But that wasn’t enough for my mom; she made me open the Georgetown letter too. This was the first congratulatory college acceptance letter I’d ever seen. But, it still wasn’t what I had expected. Georgetown offered me a one-year deferred acceptance, forcing me to take the gap year I’d been talking about.

The relief was enormous. Nine months had passed since I had sent in my first college application and, now, I was finally done. The process was brutal at times, but I wouldn’t change the result. Being forced into a gap year turned out to be extremely lucky. A gap year isn’t right for everyone, but it was exactly what I needed. I wound up spending nine months in Spain, where I studied for a few months, and then worked. It was a formative experience. And when I finally got to Georgetown almost two years after sending my early application to Harvard, I realized it was the right place for me.

~Michael Damiano

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