I can never again poke fun at the cliche concept of girls locking themselves in their bathrooms and crying until they feel better. That was me, minutes after reading my decision letter from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: waitlisted. All I could think was, "I'm not even good enough for a rejection."
Looking back, it seems really silly. At the time, however, it felt as if my whole world were crumbling around me and everything I had worked so hard for was for naught. My dream school had just told me they didn't want me there, no matter how in love with the place I was. Two hours before, at scholars bowl practice, I had hugged and cheered for my friends as they frantically refreshed the Georgia Tech application status page and one by one found out that they'd been accepted.
I had let everybody down, and I had never been so ashamed of myself and so disappointed in the cruel, cruel world. I stood staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, mumbling, "You're still you, Kristen," my go-to phrase for when I'm feeling down, but I didn't want to be me; I wanted to be someone who could get into her first-choice college. I don't think I will ever be able to purge my memory of that emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon.
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But that waitlisting was just the beginning for me. The following week I received a letter in the mail from Vanderbilt informing me that I had not been accepted but could accept a position on their waitlist. A couple days later, Brown University updated their application status page with an almost identical letter. So when the letter finally came from Pomona College, I opened it (only half-hoping to read anything besides "We regret to inform you that..."), scanned it briefly, and then tossed the letter carelessly onto the loveseat, smiling bitterly and wondering aloud if there were some kind of world record I had broken for Most Frequently Waitlisted.
My dad offered to take me to the grocery store for some kind of chocolate pick-me-up, and on a whim we had a lady at the bakery section decorate a cookie cake with "Happy Waitlisting!" in cheerful pink icing. The cherry on top was my straight-up, flat-out rejection from Yale.
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My life was a Robert Frost poem as I saw two paths diverge: I could continue to be cynical and begrudge all my friends who'd ended up where they wanted, or I could roll with the punches, learn to laugh about it, and decide that those colleges didn't get to define me and the admissions decisions were not reflective of my self-worth. Admittedly, it took a while to embark on that second path, and I definitely had my days of wallowing in self-pity, but ultimately I set out to prove to all those people who waitlisted me that they were wrong.
I enrolled at my "safety school" - the University of Georgia - but I don't think "enrolled" is a strong enough word to convey the intensity with which I chose to devote myself to showing everybody just how awesome I could be, and UGA turned out to be much more than a safety school. I had always been unsure of how much truth there was to that timeless saying, "everything happens for a reason," but I am more certain every day that I am where I am happiest and where I belong.
If there is anything that applying to colleges teaches you, it's flexibility. It's perfectly okay to not get into your first-choice or dream college; it's equally okay to get accepted but not be awarded the scholarships or financial aid you need to actually attend. The applications are not something to be blown off and should be taken seriously, but they don't determine your life or who you are or what you can do.
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College admissions decisions are not the be-all and end-all of securing a good post-secondary education. Even if your heart stays set on a particular school, you don't have to throw in the towel quite yet. With deferrals, you've bought yourself a little extra time to show the admissions office that you have earned a place at their college. With waitlists or rejections, you have even more time to prove to them what you're capable of, since you have the option to transfer if they accept you later or next year.
The final word from UNC? They offered me the possibility of guaranteed admission as a sophomore transfer. With 28 credits awarded to me for my AP scores (plus 7 credits from the foreign language placement test), a place in the prestigious Honors College, an amazing group of inspirational and interesting new friends, and connections with friendly, encouraging, successful faculty members, I'm already a "sophomore" here at UGA and definitely won't be leaving anytime soon. Maybe it was a happy waitlisting, after all.