Seeing Opportunity in Disappointment

A close-up of the Washington Square Park Arch. Behind the arch is are trees and buildings.

It may be crazy to believe, but you’ll soon graduate from high school. Wait…what?! The last four years have flown by and you are now preparing to transition into adulthood. Scary! No, exciting! Well, scary, mostly. At any rate, the countdown is on and you will be marching across a stage, diploma in hand, in no time. And for a large number of students, that means the focus is quickly turning to college. You did your research. You submitted your applications. Reach schools. Safety schools. Schools, schools, schools. No matter which institution you get an admit letter from, understanding that this is an opportunity for you to write your story is key! And the truth is, even if this chapter doesn’t “end” the way you hoped, recognize there’s many more pages in your book.

Reality Check

We all know the college admissions process has become very competitive. With an ever-strengthening college-going culture, space is limited on most college and university campuses. This is especially true for selective and highly selective universities, NYU included. Think about schools whose admit rate is 20% or lower. It means that 8 out of 10 students don’t end up attending what may be their dream school. It may be staggering to think of it this way but it’s not a bad idea since this is reality.

Think About It Differently...

First, I’m glad you still decided to apply to that school despite what you knew about how competitive it is. Shoot your shot. Always! You owe it to yourself to pursue those things that will make you happy. However, it’s ok to think about what it means if that first choice doesn’t become your reality. While I sincerely wish that every college applicant could get selected to attend their dream school, I know this is not realistic. So then it would help to approach decision season with an asset mindset rather than a deficit mindset. I’ll help you do that by the end of this article but first, let me share my story.

My Story

I can recall so many vivid moments from my college journey. It began in 2003 when I went away to a school about 90 miles from my home.  After a few semesters, I decided to transfer to a school in my hometown. I soon encountered a number of unforeseen challenges. Before I knew it, I decided that college wasn’t for me. And like so many, my “just a little time off” became years and years. I decided to embrace full-time work and after more than 5 years, I decided to finish what I started.

Imagine a package delivery driver parking his truck on his route to attend a psychology class. Imagine that driver being anywhere from 7 to 10 years older than most of his classmates. Imagine this guy pulling an all-nighter to write a paper before working his route. Imagine all the plot twists that occurred during this time. Now also imagine the feeling of success after finally accomplishing the goal! Imagine the joy of a degree being greater than the disappointments of the previous years.

I am no way telling you to take your decision-making lightly. I am not advocating that you make your four-year drive an eleven-year excursion. But I am calling your attention to the world of opportunity. The world of possibility. The possibility of dreaming again. The possibility of renewed excitement. The possibility of making the best out of your current situation. And the probability of discovering that it is actually the best situation for you! For every regret, there are multiple moments of gratitude for how my experiences played out.

If you find yourself receiving disappointing news from NYU or any other college, stop and breathe. Take a minute to make meaning of the situation.

What This Decision Doesn't Mean

Emphasis on the doesn’t in that statement.

1. You’re a failure.

If we step back and take a look at the bigger picture, we are talking about four years. Important years? Yes. Defining years? Sure. But four years. The reality is that it doesn’t matter which college you attend, but that you attend. It may not seem like it in the moment, you will actually be fine wherever you ultimately end up. You will make friends and enjoy activities and study your intended major just the same. You haven’t failed but you’ve been nudged in a direction that you will soon find out is awesome!

2. You’ll never get to attend your dream school.

While there is no absolute guarantee, the door is not fully closed. If you’ve been waitlisted, there is still that chance you can be admitted. But also, there could be the possibility of being a transfer student. Explore options to transfer to your dream school in the future. Considering this option can help you plan for the future with precision. Should you decide that you want to give it another shot, you’ll be prepared for the process.

What This Decision Does Mean

You get to pick up the pen again and begin creatively rewriting this part of your story.

This is an opportunity. In fact, it is likely one of many opportunities you will have over your lifetime to make the best of a not-so-good situation. No matter who we are or where we come from, disappointment will visit us all at some point. Avoiding it is not possible. Caving under its pressure doesn’t help. You do have dreams, goals and visions and they are just as powerful now as they were before the bad news.

Final Thoughts

I know this is a difficult conversation but I think it’s a necessary conversation. We have to find the balance between dreaming big and making the most of any reality that we can’t change. I believe in making the most of every opportunity so let me encourage you to think about owning your story. After all, you are in control of the narrative.