They got rejected by their dream schools - and they wouldn't change a thing

School name doesn't determine students' worth, writes one NYT columnist

Rejection during the college admission process can lead to personal growth and opportunities, writes Frank Bruni in a New York Times op-ed.

In the past 20 years, the pressure to get into the most selective schools has been one of the most significant changes to the admissions landscape, says Alice Kleeman, a college advisor at Menlo-Atherton High School in California.

But Bruni argues that getting declined from a top school can actually help a student achieve his or her dreams. "Education happens across a spectrum of setting sand in infinite ways," he writes, and "the self-examination that's undertaken, the resourcefulness that's honed—matters more than the name of the institution attended."

Survey: Elite status does not guarantee student engagement

Bruni profiles two individuals who were not accepted to their top choices, demonstrating how facing rejection as a senior in high school does not determine a person's life path.

The nontraditional business star

Peter Hart, now 28, graduated in the top third of the class at his affluent high school and set his sights on the University of Michigan or University of Illinois undergraduate business school. 

Neither accepted him. He attended Indiana University (IU) instead—and thrived.

"I really felt like I was a competent person," he told Bruni.

At IU, he joined an undergraduate business student honors program, served as VP of a business fraternity, and started a small real estate enterprise. Following graduation, Hart started in Boston Consulting Group's Chicago office—alongside a fellow high school graduate who went to Yale.

While his classmate traveled "a more gilded path," both individuals wound up at the same job, writes Bruni.

After gaining some experience, Hart began pursuing his master's degree in business administration—at Harvard Business School.

"For every person whose contentment comes from faithfully executing a predetermined script, there are at least 10 if not 100 who had to rearrange the pages and play a part they hadn't expected to, in a theater they hadn't envisioned," he says.

The fearless reformer

Another student, the now 26-year-old Jenna Leahy, used her rejection as a springboard for more opportunities.

As an A and B applicant from Phillips Exeter Academy with a full extracurricular resume, she earned an SAT math score in the low 600s—but was rejected from her early decision choice.

Then Leahy was rejected from four more of her top choices during the regular admissions period.

She ultimately decided to attend Scripps College. Having already faced rejection, Leahy decided to make the most of her time there. She says she "applied for things fearlessly."

It paid off. Leahy won a stipend to live in Tijuana, Mexico for one summer, and later won a contest to attend a conference and meet former President Jimmy Carter. Her ambition ultimately helped her earn a position with Teach for America and a grant to start a new charter school.

"I never would have had the strength, drive, or fearlessness to take such a risk if I hadn't been rejected so intensely before," she told Bruni. "There's a beauty to that kind of rejection, because it allows you to find the strength within" (Bruni, New York Times, 3/13).

The takeaway: Getting rejected from a prestigious college or university may help students more than they initially realize, a New York Times columnist argues.

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague