When one door closes another opens24 January 2012
By Praseeda Nair
IT’S almost a rite of passage that the college-bound high school senior pours through course catalogues, raids the merchandising department for mugs and sweatshirts, and even fantasises about strolling through the college campus of their choice months (if not years) in advance of matriculating.
Then it arrives – the thin envelope – a harbinger of doom signalling the end of what in many cases is a life-long dream. But, while it might feel like the end of the world, being rejected from your first choice of school can be for the best.
Campus Cashy spoke to Dubai-grown college students and fresh grads who can vouch that being rejected was the best thing to happen to them in all their years of overachieving.
Jolene Thomas once dreamt of getting a BBA in finance and a high-flying corporate job. She still remembers the day she tore open six decision letters in a row. “I had applied to Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton in the US, as well as Oxford and King’s College in the UK. I know it was ambitious of me, but I had always taken it as a given that I’d attend a top university,” says the 23-year-old.
Jolene did not get into any of her top choices, leaving her shattered for days. “I confined myself to my room, refusing to speak to anyone for days. My parents were so worried about me, but I didn’t want to leave my bed and face the world. I literally felt like I had lost the will to live.”
For days, Jolene immersed herself in vapid television watching, disrupted only by random bouts of crying. “When you get a rejection letter, the first instinct is to take it personally,” she says. “It took me awhile to realise that being rejected by a few universities wasn’t a personal attack or a sign of failure on my part.”
Applicants need to realise that they are one of thousands and that, on paper, students can look interchangeable. Susan T, a career counsellor at a Dubai-based high school, says: “Top schools around the world are trying to promote diversity in their campuses. They’re looking for a good mix of cultures, ethnicities, and skills among their students, so it’s really nothing personal.”
Jolene took a year off to re-evaluate her choices and gain some work experience through an internship with a marketing firm in Dubai. After the much-needed gap year, Jolene realised that her passion lies with animal healthcare.
“I never would have known that being a veterinarian would be my calling,” she says. I had always loved animals, but figured that I would stick to the tried-and-test route of joining the corporate world.
“I can’t stress how happy I am that life turned out this way! Time off was just what I needed to figure out my real strengths and interests without the pressure of the application rat race.”
All in the family
For Arjun Rao, 20, being a third-generation Vassarman was the dream. He was a “legacy”, a term commonly used in the US to refer to students with an ancestral foothold in their university – which made rejection all the more hard to bear.
“I wasn’t just letting myself down; I felt like I was letting my entire family down,” he says.
Ever since Arjun could remember, all his family every talked about was Vassar – from his grandfather’s participation in anti-war rallies in the 60s, to which dorm he should apply to when he would follow in his family’s illustrious footsteps.
“The pressure was impossible! I’d never even considered other options, but for the sake of having back-ups, I applied to a couple of colleges in the US,” the American national says.
“Not getting into Vassar was such a blow. It’s supposed to be easier for legacies to get into their parents’ alma mater. I couldn’t live it down, but I knew I had to face my fears.”
Currently in his third year at Boston University, Arjun has been on the Dean’s List for three consecutive semesters.
“I won’t deny that rejection stung,” adds the Dubai-born psychology major. “Perhaps I’ll apply for grad school there.
“I honestly can’t complain, though. I’m working hard and proving to my father and grandfather that I can make it despite not having the Vassar brand to lean on.”
Rejection came in a different form for Noor Abdullah, 22. Her application to National University of Singapore’s (NUS) highly competitive engineering programme was successful, but her bid for financial aid was not.
“I know there are a lot of financing options out there for students who want to go to top colleges. Financial aid or a bursary would have made life much easier, but a tuition loan from a bank would leave me buried in debt the moment I graduate.
“My parents were against this so I decided to drop my dream and think about universities closer to home, where we could save on accommodation and transportation costs at the very least,” says Noor.
She enrolled at the highly-acclaimed Indian Engineering College, BITS-Pilani’s Dubai campus in 2006, graduating last year with top honours. And it seems her decision has paid off.
“Even though I graduated when job prospects for fresh grads were at an all-time low, I managed to get recruited within a week of graduation, which may not have happened had I gone to NUS,” she adds.
Similar success stories abound, proving there’s a lot more out there for those who choose to see the glass as half-full.
According Susan T, entering the work force is a chance to whitewash the past for those less happy with their second or third college choices.
“Children are so geared to the goal of entering a good college that they sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture,” she says.
“Employability depends more on the candidate’s grades and work performance in internships than just the brand power of their college.
“An intelligent self-starter can make a name for themselves no matter the environment they are in, but if they can’t handle rejection at this important juncture, they may not be cut out for the harsh realities of the real world.”
Pic credit: nuttakit/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net