For context, read College Applications (pt. 1).
Finally. I just submitted my last college application. After writing thousands of words, cutting them down into hundreds, and editing them over and over, it was finally done. By then, it was mid-January and all I could do was wait until March when all of the college decisions would be released. Many other high school seniors I was connected with were stressed out of their minds, finding it hard to sleep, eat, and stay away from constantly scrolling through r/ApplyingToCollege.
I wasn’t the same way. I was weirdly at peace and decided to spend my time and attention on myself. Everything from exercise, skill sharpening, focusing on my job, etc. I learned new skills, I recovered old ones. I started reading books and listening to audiobooks. I knew that worrying wouldn’t change my outcome, or make the decisions release faster, so I didn’t bother thinking about it.
By the time college decisions came around, I was actually excited. Sure, I was extremely anxious and nervous, but I was so excited to open decision letters and see the results. I was even more excited to film every single moment, and hopefully compile a college reactions video for myself to look back on forever. I clearly pictured my worst-case scenario in my head as a coping mechanism, and that scenario was that I wouldn’t be accepted into a single school I applied to and I would take a gap year.
Starting off, I was rejected from both UW, Cal Poly Pomona, and UC Davis, which was extremely humbling and set the stage for the rest of my reactions. I was accepted into UC Merced and SJSU, both of which are great schools, but not schools I was necessarily excited to attend. I was then rejected by Harvey Mudd, and then Babson College, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine all on the same day. Morale through the floor. I was accepted by UC Riverside, but again, it wasn’t a school I wanted to go to. I was then waitlisted at UC Santa Cruz and rejected by UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. To have all of those things happen within the span of a few days completely shattered my confidence. Almost everyone else I knew already had a decision they were happy with. For me, I didn’t have an offer that I felt happy with or even comfortable taking.
March 26 rolls around. My confidence is at an all-time low and the only optimistic comment I can make is “I hope the private universities like me more than the public schools.” I heard a rumor that the USC decision was being released that day, but I didn’t want to think about it. I was spending the day with Katherine, having fun, and then I got a notification that the USC decision was available. I really didn’t want to open it until I got home, but I was persuaded to open it then. Through all my rejections, I had forgotten how much I wanted to go to USC. I was applying for the Iovine and Young Academy, where I had spent countless hours fulfilling the extended application requirements and also went through a rigorous interview process back in February. I wasn’t even excited to open my decision, I was just hoping it wouldn’t be soul-crushing. We went to the library, found a study room, set up the camera, and opened the letter. I was accepted.
Getting rejected over and over can really play with your self-esteem, and bring it to the floor. But, I, a student who never really took academics seriously, never took a single AP or honors class, and never completed a standardized test, was just accepted into a selective program at a selective school. Everything else that had happened didn’t matter anymore. I was beyond happy. I made sure to take my time to let it sink in and to celebrate.
Over the next few days, I had a lot more decisions to open. But I wasn’t nervous - I was excited. All the pressure I was putting on myself had been lifted off my shoulders with my USC acceptance, and I could finally relax. I was waitlisted at Carnegie Mellon for Computer Science which I was really surprised and happy with. Then, I was rejected by Northwestern, UMich, Boston University, Vanderbilt, and Tufts. I was waitlisted by Syracuse and NYU which I was really happy with as well, rejected by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and then obliterated on Ivy Day with rejections from Cornell, Brown, Harvard, and UPenn.
Overall, I applied to 28 schools (way more than I should’ve), was accepted by 4, waitlisted by 3, and rejected by 21.
Looking back, this is all a fond memory and one of my favorite stories to tell. The fact that I spent so much extra time and money applying to over 14 schools that I initially wasn’t going to apply to, and yet got rejected and waitlisted by all of them is more of a funny memory than a painful one.
Beyond that, I can see now that I was in pure denial about my worst-case scenario. My backup plan for over a year was to take a gap year if I didn’t receive an offer I felt happy about. It was a realistic plan. I already had offers to work full-time, and I could always live at home and work on any ideas that came to mind. But, only after I received my decisions, did I realize that I never wanted to take a gap year. It was purely a narrative that was given to me by so many peers, and it was supposed to provide me comfort, but it didn’t. I knew with my heart and soul that I wanted to get into a school I was proud of, and I was scared to take a gap year.
I can also see the benefit in some of my rejections. Getting rejected at Stanford was one of the worst rejections I had ever received in my life. But, going to USC provides an opportunity to escape the Bay Area, the place I called home my entire life. It would place me closer to my extended family, make the trip home relatively cheap and quick, and still allow me to enjoy California weather.
I’m more than excited to attend USC IYA this fall as part of the Class of 2026 alongside my other ~30 cohort members. This was never the outcome I would’ve expected, but I’m so glad it turned out this way. The journey started off pretty badly, but I’m starting to learn that the hard parts of life make for a better story to tell.