Why It's Okay That You Were Rejected From Your Dream School
It’s that time of year again; the acceptance packages and rejection letters are rolling in, your parents and teachers are constantly asking for updates, and everyday you watch your peers experience both thrilling pride and crushing heartbreak. The university admission cycle is a huge time for you in your life, if you’ve chosen that the university path is right for you. As musicians, it’s easy to fall in love with the biggest, most beautiful universities with the famous teachers, gorgeous facilities, exciting connections, and hottest reputation. Maybe you’re dreaming of a local university where you friends are attending, or maybe you’d love to attend the same university as your parents. Maybe you are the first in your family to attend college, and there is a lot of pressure riding on you to attend the very best school. No matter how we’d all love to see each other succeed and thrive at our dream college, we all know that college rejection is very real. If you’ve just been rejected, don’t quit. Here are our top 7 reasons why it’s okay that you got rejected from your dream school, and some tips for what to do now.
1. Maybe you aren’t ready
This might be brutally honest: maybe you’re not ready. And that’s okay! It’s very normal to apply for all the best schools without being 100% sure that you can thrive in their environments. This does not mean you’re a bad musician. Many of the best musicians in the world (top orchestral players, Broadway soloists, GRAMMY award winners, etc.) get their start at public universities. If this is a shock to you, then you’re missing out on a great secret: tons of public universities have absolutely astonishing music programs. Like, SO GOOD. It’s okay if you’re not in the top .001% of musicians your age right out of high school. You can get there. You won’t get there by attending a school in which you don’t belong. Imagine taking AP Calculus without ever learning Algebra; you would be overwhelmed, discouraged, and disappointed in yourself daily. If you think there’s a chance you would suffer in this dream school, be grateful for the rejection - it is pushing you towards a path on which you can flourish.
2. Your reputation will be okay
I understand the crushing pressure to get into a great school. Your friends, family, teachers, peers, (and even your competition), are all watching fiercely to see where you are going to attend. It’s true: some people will judge you for not getting accepted to the best school. Some people will celebrate that their competition (you) didn’t get into a school better than theirs. We can’t deny that this stuff happens. However, the people who really matter will be happy when they see you thriving at the school you eventually pick. They will also be happy to see you thriving if you decide not to attend school this year. After one year at college, you will have forgotten the names and faces of the people that you used to worry about. After four years, one or more degrees, hundreds of friends, countless memories, huge achievements, and mentors for life, you will have forgotten any worries you had in high school about your university of acceptances. Time moves quickly, and the pettiness of high school judgement will quickly fade once everyone goes their own way. Here’s another secret: a lot will change after one year. A lot of your high school friends will change schools or drop out altogether. Some will decide to start families. Some will join the Peace Corps. Some will make a living off of a game show. Some will join the military. Some will tragically pass away. Everything is constantly changing. Be grateful for the options that you do have, and find an option that you’re committed to and love every day. Your reputation will be just fine. Also, you get to start over at your new school!
3. You will meet amazing people
In college, you will meet the most amazing people - friends, teachers, mentors, lovers, inspirations - and you’ll have these people for your entire life. You will find people who share your interests, inspire you, and push you to work towards your dreams. Do you ever feel like no one understands you in high school? Maybe people think that being a musician is a joke. Maybe your parents nag you for choosing a “dead-end” degree. Your friends and colleagues have all felt this way too, and they’ve come out stronger for it. Being immersed in an environment surrounded by people who want to see you THRIVE is one of the most liberating and inspiring experiences you can have.
4. Lesser-known schools can be amazing
Occasionally, there is excessive pride surrounding the “elite” universities. While they do offer amazing opportunities, world-class networking, and outstanding facilities, so do many other schools that you’ve not yet discovered. Remember this: the teacher who will inspire you to new levels, change your life, and connect with you musically on a new level will have a greater impact on you than all of the “elite” perks that you might get at another, more popular school. Look for a game-changing teacher for you, and everything will be amazing.
5. You’ll be better off learning from peers and teachers who are at your level
If you can accept that you might not be ready for the rigorous expectations of your dream school, then you should also understand that being surrounded by amazing students and teachers who are more appropriate for your level is your greatest collegiate opportunity you can ask for. Of course, it’s great to be challenged and constantly motivated by your surroundings, but if you are thrown into an environment that is way beyond your level, you will be more discouraged than encouraged by your vast distance from those around you. There is no shame in accepting a university that fits your needs, and there is no shame in those universities for having students who are not yet at a prestigious, prodigious skill level.
6. You’ll be able to afford it (maybe)
Being rejected from a super fancy conservatory can be depressing, but your bank account will be celebrating. Going to a public university can still be very expensive, but in general, you will be paying less over time to attend. Unless you have a guaranteed college fund, you’ll be so glad when you're not graduating with 400k+ in student loan debt from your dream school.
7. You can always apply there for grad school
Graduate school might not even be on your radar yet, but it’s important to know that most universities will have a graduate program that you can attend at any point after you get your first degree. Some students continue on to graduate programs immediately after receiving their bachelors, while others take some years or decades off to develop themselves, start their careers, and further develop their skills and passions. Graduate school might be a great time and place to reach your dream school goals.
WHAT TO DO NOW:
Don’t write-off going to music school altogether. Hopefully, you auditioned for some other schools and have a “backup” school. If you don’t have any alternatives, or if you’ve unfortunately been rejected to every school, keep your eyes open for late application opportunities at other schools. If you need to take a year off to work and refine your skills and passions, that’s great!
Stay positive in your work ethic and goal orientation. Don’t beat yourself up for this loss. You’ll have many wins and many, many more losses in your career. If this is your first big loss, take this opportunity to learn and grow. You’ll only come out stronger in the end.
Take this as a good sign
This might seem cheesy, but take into consideration that better things may be waiting for you somewhere else. It might be hard to accept, but this rejection might be putting you right on the path to greater things.
If this really is the school of your dreams and you can’t live without it, try again next year. But don’t waste the next 9 months - get as much information as you can about the school and what they are looking for. You can always write the audition committee and politely request feedback from your audition. If you’re not already in touch with professors from your dream school, now’s the time to create that relationship. Don’t be offended if they don’t respond; sometimes they can’t or won’t give feedback. Find students from the school who study what you want to study and ask questions about the school and the program you’d like to enter. They will have valuable feedback on what is really demanded and expected from incoming students. Remember, stay positive, polite, and absolutely do not say bad things about the program for rejecting you.
Re-examine why it was really your dream school
Now that you know you won’t be attending this school in the fall, how do you really feel about it? You might have some anger towards the institution, which is natural. Do you feel relieved? If you feel a deep sense of relief, then you might have been applying to this school for the wrong reasons. When you are accepted to a place where you really belong, you’ll feel excitement, wonder, pride, and a little good anxiety about what’s to come. An acceptance letter should never come with feelings of dread or huge amounts of unhealthy pressure. Separate yourself from the situation: did you apply because your parents/teachers/friends/siblings wanted you to? Are you trying to fill the shoes of someone else? Are you only trying to prove something to someone other than yourself? Getting distance from the idea of attending this school can give you some perspective on your intentions, which should help inform your next big decision.
Understand that sometimes, things just don’t work out.
That’s right - sometimes you aren’t going to get your way, even if you clearly deserve it. You might feel confused, disappointed, regretful, embarrassed, or even ashamed. Those are natural feelings. Use this time to practice, reclaim your voice, and prepare for the next big audition. You might never know if you really deserved your rejection or not, but all you can do is shrug it off, go practice, and make sure you’re even more prepared for the next audition.