The New York Times
18 March 2015
At Harvard, Bucknell, Emory and other schools around the US, there have been record numbers of applicants yearning for an elite degree. They’ll get word in the next few weeks. Most will be turned down.
All should hear and heed the stories of Peter Hart and Jenna Leahy.
Peter didn’t try for the Ivy League. That wasn’t the kind of student he’d been at New Trier High School, in an affluent Chicago suburb. A friend of Peter’s was ranked near the summit of their class; she set her sights on Yale – and ended up there. Peter was ranked in the top third, and aimed for the University of Michigan or maybe the special undergraduate business school at the University of Illinois. Both rejected him.
He went to Indiana University instead. Right away, he noticed a difference. At New Trier, a public school posh enough to pass for private, he’d always had a sense of himself as someone ordinary, at least in terms of his studies. At Indiana, though, the students in his freshman classes weren’t as showily gifted as the New Trier kids had been, and his self-image went through a transformation.
“I really felt like I was a competent person,” he told me last year, soon after he’d turned 28. And he thrived. He got into an honours programme for undergraduate business majors. He became vice-president of a campus business fraternity. He cobbled together the capital to start a tiny real estate firm that fixed up and rented small houses to fellow students.
And he finagled a way, off campus, to get interviews with several of the top-drawer consulting firms that trawled for recruits at the Ivies but often bypassed schools like Indiana. Upon graduation, he took a plum job in the Chicago office of the Boston Consulting Group, where he recognised one of the other new hires: the friend from New Trier who’d gone to Yale. Travelling a more gilded path, she’d arrived at the same destination. He later decided to get a master’s degree in business administration, and that’s where he is now, in graduate school – at Harvard.
Jenna, 26, went through the college admissions process two years after Peter did. She, too, was applying from a charmed school: in her case, Phillips Exeter Academy. Her transcript was a mix of As and Bs, and she was active in so many Exeter organisations that when graduation rolled around, she received a prize given to a student who’d brought special distinction to the school. But her maths SAT score was in the low 600s. Perhaps because of that, she was turned down for early decision at her first choice, Claremont McKenna College.
She applied to more than half a dozen schools. Georgetown, Emory, the University of Virginia and Pomona College all turned her down, leaving her to choose among the University of South Carolina, Pitzer College and Scripps College, a sister school of Claremont McKenna’s in Southern California. “I felt so worthless,” she recalled.
She chose Scripps. And once she got there and saw how contentedly she fit in, she had a life-changing realisation: Not only was a crushing chapter of her life in the past, it hadn’t crushed her. Rejection was fleeting – and survivable. As a result, she said: “I applied for things fearlessly.”
She won a stipend to live in Tijuana, Mexico, for a summer and work with indigent children there. She prevailed in a contest to attend a special conference at the Carter Centre in Georgia and to meet former president Jimmy Carter. And she applied for a coveted spot with Teach for America, which she got. Later she landed a grant to develop a new charter school for low-income families in Phoenix, where she now lives. It opened last August, with Jenna and a colleague at the helm.
“I never would have had the strength, drive or fearlessness to take such a risk if I hadn’t been rejected so intensely before. There’s a beauty to that kind of rejection, because it allows you to find the strength within,” she told me.
Peter’s example is not extraordinary: People bloom at various stages of life, and different individuals flourish in different climates. Nor is Jenna’s arc so unusual. 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 theatre they hadn’t envisioned.
Besides, life is defined by setbacks, and success is determined by the ability to rebound from them. And there’s no single juncture, no one crossroads, on which everything hinges.
So why do so many Americans – anxious parents, addled children – treat the period in late March and early April, when elite colleges deliver disappointing news to anywhere from 70 per cent to 95 per cent of their applicants, as if it’s precisely that?
– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/school-admissions-no-measure-ones-worth-20150318#xtor=CS1-10