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Connecting the Dots After Your College Rejection

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Author, Getting Over Not Getting In

Maybe receiving that small envelope seems like the worst thing that's ever happened to you--but what if it was actually the best?

Every year, as I pull out my medicine bag to help heal the wounds of rejected students, I find some who are immune to every statistic, study, and argument I offer. Maybe you are one of them. Even true stories revealing the vagaries of the system may not bring you any relief. But I will not give up on you. Just like an illness that defies modern medicine, you force me to try a different approach.

That is when I turn to a quote from the late Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots of your life looking forwards, only looking backwards.” I ask you to consider, perhaps for the first time, the possibility that life is pushing you in a new direction (away from your dream school) for a reason. I can’t give you the reason. Nobody can, not yet. You just need to live a little longer to be able to connect the dots.  

Jobs knew what he was talking about. His life had more twists and turns than apps in Apple’s very own App Store. He was adopted by a couple living in what was to become Silicon Valley. It is fair to say that the first dot of his life was squarely placed in the right place at the right time. Then, there is the story of how he met his wife. Arriving late for his speech, she initially sat on the floor, but then was moved to the front row of “reserved” seats--right next to Jobs. Another dot, another unforeseen delight. Even professionally, Jobs’ life was full of chance meetings and experiences that deeply affected everything that came afterwards.

As I look back on my own college rejection, I am quite thankful for how the dots connected. True, I entered college trying my best to erase the dot I had been given. Little did I know that waiting for me on campus were wonderful professors, lifelong friends, and, the sweetest dot of all, my future husband. We have two children and built a life together that makes me grateful every day for that rejection letter.

Now, it’s your turn. Can you connect any unexpected events in your life to their happy consequences? Did a scheduling conflict land you in a class that eventually became your favorite? Or your teacher’s alphabetical seating chart forced you to meet someone with whom you soon realized you shared much more than your last initial? Maybe an illness led you to consider a career in medicine, a crime sparked your interest in police work, or a great teacher inspired you to one day teach others.

As graduation day approaches, if you find yourself dwelling on rejection, think about the dots. Don’t worry if right now your life looks more like a Rorschach test than a Renaissance masterpiece. Like toddlers scribbling in a coloring book, connecting the dots can get messy. Some lines are bold, decisive strokes, while others are timid and meandering. But they do connect, and that is what matters. As Jobs said at that Stanford commencement speech in 2005, “Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

Still feeling the sting of your college rejection? Be sure to check out Allison Singh's "Getting Over the Heartbreak of a College Rejection Letter."

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