74: The Best Disappointment

74: The Best Disappointment

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

The Best Disappointment

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

~Alan Alda

“Are you sure you don’t want the sweatshirt?” my mom asked one final time.

We were standing in front of a rack of red and white sweatshirts in the McGill bookstore. I had started to collect clothing from each college I visited—a pair of pajama pants from Rutgers, a T-shirt from Boston University — as I made the college tour up the East Coast and across the Canadian border. Now my closet was crammed with more clothing than I knew what to do with, and I was beginning to wonder what would happen to all of my purchases.

“I mean what am I going to do with, like, twenty sweatshirts from the schools I don’t go to?” My mom shrugged and hung up the sweatshirt.

“Fine,” my mom replied. “Do what you want.”

Although McGill, a large international university in Montreal, was one of my top choices, I wasn’t ready to buy one of their sweatshirts just yet. Since the start of my college application marathon, I had been torn between NYU and McGill. My parents and I spent countless hours around the dinner table weighing the relative advantages and disadvantages of each school.

Both had good reputations, but the price tag for NYU made my father cringe; McGill was a far friendlier alternative for his wallet. But NYU was only an hour from home, while McGill was four hundred miles away in another country altogether. Going to McGill would mean packing up my small town suburban life in New Jersey and moving to Montreal, where I didn’t know a soul. I would have to leave behind my friends and family, and, as a self-proclaimed homebody, I wasn’t sure if I could sever my ties with home that quickly.

The next day, after spending eight hours in the backseat of the family car, we arrived back home. My family had been away for a week for this visit to McGill, and I was sure that NYU’s decision had arrived during that time. As soon as my dad pulled into the driveway, I bolted from the car, dashed through the front door, and began sifting through the tower of mail that a neighbor had left in the kitchen. Midway through the pile I found it—a small white envelope stamped with the NYU logo. My heart sunk. I knew that an envelope that tiny only contained bad news, a letter of rejection.

By the time my dad carried the first of our suitcases into the house, tears were welling in my eyes. I was being told “no” after all the AP courses, the hours of SAT prep sessions, and a wastepaper basket filled to the brim from my struggle to write the perfect college essay. A handful of sentences that took only few seconds to read ended a dream that was four years in the making.

I felt gloomy for the next few days, like one of those characters in a cartoon that has a black rain cloud follow him wherever he goes. Memories of meetings with my guidance counselor haunted me. I vividly remembered sitting in her office and sorting through a list of colleges that might be the right fit for me. We were discussing NYU.

“Your SAT scores are good and you have excellent recommendations,” she said one afternoon. “I’m sure you’ll get in.”

I had taken her words as a guarantee and that only made the rejection all the more unbearable. My confidence was shot; if I couldn’t get into NYU, why would McGill take me?

After what felt like an eternity, the day for McGill’s decision finally came. The school posted their admissions information online, so that morning I rolled out of bed in a sleepy stupor and nervously clicked through the website. When the page finally loaded, I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was a yes.

I ran into my parents’ bedroom with a grin that stretched from ear to ear.

“I got in! McGill wants me!” I shrieked.

“That’s great,” my mom said, giving me a hug. “I guess you should have bought that sweatshirt after all...”

After all the tears and angst and sleepless nights, everything worked out just fine. Today, with four years of hindsight on my side, I’ve realized that being rejected by NYU is one of the best things that ever happened to me. McGill was absolutely the right match for me; I can’t imagine going to any other school. But if I had the option of going to NYU, I don’t know if I would have ever had the courage to move to Montreal. I think I would have chosen NYU, where I could come home for the weekends, visit the same places, see the same people. I might have been happy, but I also know I wouldn’t have grown up.

Being so far away from home gave me a crash course in confidence and self-sufficiency. I mastered the fine art of laundry, learned how to pay bills, and met people from across the globe. I took ski trips with friends, tasted poutine, and paid rent. Four hundred miles from home, I blossomed into a better, worldlier person and became the proud owner of two McGill sweatshirts. And it’s all thanks to that small envelope NYU mailed me one day.

~Rebecca H. Cramer

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