By: Anna Vera
Anna Vera is one of the most impressive students we’ve met, top of her class at Leaders High School, a NYC Outward Bound School, and a first-generation college student; she applied to and looked like a perfect fit for many of the top schools. Unfortunately, Anna got waitlisted, deferred or rejected at many of her dream schools including her top choice of Reed College. Here she shares a little about her journey and making the most of a process that doesn’t always play out the way one hopes it will.
Reed College had always been my dream school. I felt like my personality would fit right in with the culture of Portland, and I loved the idea of a research- and science-focused school. I had already toured many colleges, and I knew that I had to see it for myself to figure out if I loved it as much as I thought I did. After all, I had visited schools that sounded perfect for me on paper, but when I got on campus, they just felt wrong.
I was fortunate enough to be working during evenings and weekends throughout my senior year of high school, so I had saved up enough money to make the trip. My boss was also admittedly very flexible and happily gave me the time off that I needed to take this trip.
I booked my tickets about two months in advance, and I corresponded with local inns to see if they would be able to offer me a room. I was still a minor at the time, and couldn’t check into a hotel. These smaller, locally owned businesses were very understanding and allowed me to book a room as long as I gave them a parent or guardian’s contact information. Everything just lined up perfectly, and I geared up to take my first solo trip across the country.
Once I arrived on campus, though it was a cold, damp morning in Oregon, I immediately knew that Reed was where I belonged. I saw myself attending classes there, joining their clubs, living in their Russian dorms to brush up on my mother tongue. I felt like I had found my community. I gushed about my plans to attend Reed in my supplementary essays and spoke thoroughly about how I hoped to make a difference there. I could see my future ahead of me in a linear path, all of my successes that would start with Reed.
When decision day rolled around, I excitedly opened up my letter and skimmed the first few lines. “We regret to inform you…”
My heart sank. I kept skimming. Waitlisted. I knew that this was a possibility. My high school college advisers had warned me that applications get more competitive every year. That a full-need student wasn’t likely to make it into a need-conscious school regular decision, let alone after being waitlisted. I just thought that my effort, academics, and demonstrated interest would be enough to step over the barrier that many first-generation students like myself face.
Through this disappointment, it became clear to me that I had been looking at Reed through rose-colored glasses. As much as I loved the campus, I realized that like many college students, attending this school would leave me tens of thousands of dollars in debt upon graduation. As someone looking to pursue graduate school, this didn’t seem like the most fiscally responsible decision. I also likely wouldn’t have been able to afford to fly home and back several times a year to see my family over the holidays, and I do get homesick frequently.
It’s very likely that I was reminding myself of all of these factors to try to cover up the sting of rejection, trying to convince myself that I never wanted it that much anyway. Of course, this wasn't true, as I wanted more than anything to attend Reed. However, rejection often teaches essential lessons in itself, and it taught me to consider instead the college options that would be the most fiscally responsible in the long run, not just the one that appeared most attractive to me.
I refocused my energy into options that were more realistic to me at the time. I waited for my ultimate decision from Reed, but I had to commit to a school so that, come the following fall, I’d have somewhere to go. Luckily, I was accepted to all of the City University of New York (CUNY) schools that I had applied to. Attending one of these schools would allow me to worry less about finances, as CUNY would cover my tuition. I opted for the school most known for their science and pre-health programs, Hunter. Though I wasn’t ecstatic with this decision, my uncertainties had mostly subsided.
Since starting at Hunter College, I have made a conscious effort to find and utilize any resources the college has to offer me. I’ve met new people from different backgrounds than myself, and though this college isn’t where I saw myself a year ago, I can’t say that I’m unhappy here.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t shoot for your dream school. You should always approach your applications tenaciously and wholeheartedly. It’s just a reminder that when one door closes, another one opens. If things don’t work out as you originally intended them to, it does not mean that you are on the wrong track. Thinking about what could have been is only going to keep you from succeeding in your current circumstance, and the next four years ahead of you are going to be what you make of them.