Top colleges are sending out acceptances this week, and simple math shows there will be a lot of disappointed high school students. Harvard University had a 4.5 percent acceptance rate this year. Stanford is always that low.
Knowing that it's a tough time for kids who don't get their first choice school, I asked dozens of people who had this experience themselves--some of them three years ago, some of them thirty years ago--to reflect on how things worked out.
Here's what nine of them had to say.
1. I met my wife and "started a business."
First choice: UCLA; went to: University of California, Santa Barbara.
"I always, ALWAYS, thought I'd go to UCLA. ... Anyway, I didn't get into my main major of choice. But, I did at Santa Barbara. I ended up not only loving the smaller atmosphere, but the central coast in general.
"I was there when [the movie] Sideways happened ... and ended up starting a wine business some years later in large part because I saw how successful they could be. ...
"Those were good years, also because my wife happened to transfer in..."
--Mark Aselstine, founder, Uncorked Ventures
2. "Living in the city forced me to grow up faster."
First choice: Sarah Lawrence College or Vassar; went to: Marymount Manhattan College.
"Because I wound up going to school in the big city, major things happened for me. From working in bra fitting retail jobs that would eventually bring me onto TV shows like The Martha Stewart Show, Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, and more. To meeting my husband on the streets of NYC before an acting class.
"I've now been living in NYC for 15 years, been with my husband for 11, we got married at the Bronx Zoo (where we had a first date) 5 years ago, and I've been on TV shows and magazine here in NYC ...
'Living IN the city forced me to grow up a bit faster, yes, and it also helped me grow in other ways that I couldn't have even imagined."
--Kim Caldwell, owner, Hurray Media
3. "It was a far better choice."
First choice: Harvard; went to: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I had always wanted to go to Harvard, not necessarily because I knew anything about it but because it was Harvard. It was just a reputation thing.
"During my interview, I prepared a well-rehearsed answer for the one interview question I knew they'd ask: Why do you want to go to Harvard?. But when they asked it, I thought better of performing my obviously prepared, memorized answer and pretty much said 'Um, I don't know,' which seems like the one thing NOT to say. ...
"I ended up going to MIT instead which in retrospect was a far better choice for me as I would not have fit in at Harvard at all, although I fit in quite well at MIT. "
--Steve Silberberg, FitPacking
4. I got my dream job.
First choice: Brown University; went to: University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
"I applied to the Brown University Resumed Undergraduate Education Program. I thought I was a shoe-in. ... I wasn't accepted! ... After I processed my grief and devastation ... It was at UMASS Dartmouth that I discovered my love for psychology and decided to switch my major from pre-med.
"To say [my current role] is a dream job is an understatement. I am so happy and honored to be part of such an impressive endeavor and truly do not think my career path would have led me here had I not been rejected from Brown University in 2001."
--Erin Reynolds, PsyD, Clinical Director, Baylor Scott & White Sports Concussion Program at The Star
5. I would have been homeless.
First choice: Columbia University; went to: NYU.
"I got rejected from attending Columbia University and it worked out in my favor because I got accepted at New York University instead and got my housing paid for ... at a time I needed a home because I was also homeless. I also went on to work as a Financial Aid Counselor. ...
"I didn't have family to stay with, so the dormitory became my home. Now I am a substitute teacher and entrepreneur."
6. I got rejected twice ... this was the silver lining.
First choice: Dartmouth; went to: Northwestern University.
"I applied early admission to Dartmouth and got rejected, and then applied regular admission and got rejected a second time (I wonder how many people can say that?).
"I went to Northwestern University instead and met some of my best friends to this day, 20+ years later. Then, after four awful winters in Chicago, I wanted to move some place warm and sunny, and I went to University of San Diego for graduate school. I loved San Diego and stayed in the city after I graduated, and this is where I met my husband!
"I think the silver lining was realizing that I'm much more of a midwest/west coast girl than east coast, although I now live in Texas, so I should probably add south to the list as well!"
--Heidi McBain, professional counseling for women, HeidiMcBain.com.
7. "I carried an enormous chip on my shoulder."
First choice: Duke University; went to: University of Rhode Island.
"I grew up in Providence, R.I., attending Classical High School. Though it was a public school, it was essentially a feeder/prep school for Brown University. Not wanting to go to college in my home town, I summarily dismissed Brown and insisted I would go to Duke University.
"I had high boards (780 SAT in Math), graduate Magna Cum Laude, and was captain of the basketball team for two years (and had five varsity letters).
"I made some tragic mistakes on my application (which became obvious much later). I was heartbroken. My guidance counselor applied for me to the University of Rhode Island. I received numerous scholarships and financial aid.
"I got my MBA from UCLA [and] I carried an enormous chip on my shoulder because top 5 [business] schools wouldn't look at me because I went to URI. I used this chip to graduate early, start multiple businesses, sit on boards ... and be one of the young donors who gave back to URI. Yes, it is cliché, but I did meet my wife at URI."
--Chris Jarvis, Jarvis Tower
8. "I ended up exactly where I needed to be."
First choice: Notre Dame University; went to: Indiana University.
"I had my heart dead set on attending Notre Dame. Having grown up Catholic in Indiana ... I toured the campus my junior year and fell in love...
"I'd been rejected. I sat in that empty classroom and cried for a few minutes. What was I supposed to do now? I ended up going to Indiana University, and honestly, it was amazing. It was exactly where I needed to end up. I met amazing friends who I still see nearly every week even 8 years after graduating.
"Moreover, I also started taking my first creative writing classes at IU with amazing professors. Now, my first book, called A Touch of Gold, is about to be published by HarperCollins. And you better believe I thank my writing professors in the acknowledgments!
"I ended up exactly where I needed to be with amazing friends and faculty who have continued to shape my life to this day."
--Annie Sullivan, author, A Touch of Gold
9. "So yes, things certainly worked out."
First choice: New York University; went to: Syracuse
"I'm from Arkansas. I grew up around farmers and farmland. Half of my life
was spent with chickens in my backyard.
"NYC ... felt like a place I should be. I could feel the pull of the city. ... I fell in love with NYU and would tell anyone who would listen that that's where I wanted to go to college. For 3.5 years, I worked to put myself in the best position to do this.
"But alas, I was rejected from NYU. I chose to attend Syracuse University instead due to their strong business program. Although it was hard to explain this to people who'd never been to either place, Syracuse, NY and NYC are a bit different, especially considering the weather.
"Even so, Orange pride quickly grew on me! Any suggestions to consider transferring were shot down with a nice, 'No thanks. Bless your heart.' ... In fact, everything [had] happened in the way that I planned, I wouldn't be as far ahead in my career as I am now. So yes, things certainly worked out."
-Frank Walker, TD Securities