For Seniors: About those letters of rejection - MUST READ from the College Guy!

Hey Seniors - READ THIS!

David Nyhan was an award winning columnist for the Boston Globe for 32 years. He wrote a version of the following column every spring for many years. This is the last one he wrote before he retired in 2001. I've been sending it out to seniors ever since I first read it. It's a tad dated but the message is still right on.

Nyhan died at age 64 several years ago while shoveling snow. He spent a lot of time on Chebeague Island here in Maine, and was a very influential and well-respected journalist.

This is good, good stuff.


P.S. Don’t forget - if you haven't yet sent me an update on what you've heard from your schools, please do so. 
And for those students/families who are struggling to figure out what to do when a school you’d hoped to attend isn’t giving you enough money, give me a holler for some advice an how best to go about an appeal process. That’s why I’m here! 



Author:    David Nyhan

Date: March 31, 2001 Boston GlobePage: A15 

Section: Op-Ed


"Dear So-and-so:

"The admissions committee gave full consideration . . . but I regret to inform you we will be unable to offer you a place in the Class of 2005." (sic) Lots of applicants, limited number of spaces, blah blah blah, good luck with your undergraduate career. Very truly yours, Assistant Dean Blowhard, rejection writer, Old Overshoe U."

This is the season of college acceptance letters. So it's also the time of rejection. You're in or you're out. Today is the day you learn how life is not like high school. To the Ins, who got where they wanted to go: Congrats, great, good luck, have a nice life, see you later. The rest of this is for the Outs.

You sort of felt it was coming. Your SAT scores weren't the greatest. Your transcript had some holes in it. You wondered what your teachers' recommendations would really say, or imply. And you can't help thinking about that essay you finished at 2 o'clock in the morning of the day you absolutely had to mail in your application, that essay which was, well, a little weird.

Maybe you could have pulled that C in sociology up to a B-minus. Maybe you shouldn't have quit soccer to get a job to pay for your gas. Maybe it was that down period during sophomore year when you had mono and didn't talk to your teachers for three months while you vegged out. What difference does it make what it was? It still hurts.

It hurts where you feel pain most: inside. It's not like the usual heartache that kids have, the kind other people can't see. An alcoholic parent, a secret shame, a gaping wound in the family fabric, these are things one can carry to school and mask with a grin, a wisecrack, a scowl, a just-don't-mess-with-me-today attitude.

But everybody knows where you got in and where you didn't. Sure, the letter comes to the house. But eventually you've still got to face your friends. "Any mail for me?" is like asking for a knuckle sandwich. Thanks a lot for the kick in the teeth. What a bummer.

How do you tell kids at school? That's the hard part. The squeals in the corridor from the kids who got in someplace desirable. The supercilious puss on the ones who got early acceptance, or the girl whose old man has an in at Old Ivy.

There's the class doofus who suddenly becomes the first nerd accepted at Princeton, the 125-pound wrestling jock who, surprise, surprise, got into MIT. But what about you?

You've heard about special treatment for this category or that category, alumni kids on a legacy ticket or affirmative action luckouts or rebounders or oboe players. Maybe they were trying to fill certain slots.

But you're not a slot. You're you. They can look at your grades and weigh your scores and see how many years you were in French Club. But they can't look into your head, or into your heart. They can't check out the guts department.

This is the important thing: They didn't reject you. They rejected your resume. They gave some other kid the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that kid deserved a break. Don't you deserve a break? Sure. You'll get one. Maybe this is the reality check you needed. Maybe the school that does take you will be good. Maybe this is the day you start to grow up.

Look at some people who've accomplished a lot, and see where they started. Ronald Reagan? Eureka College. Jesse Jackson? They wouldn't let him play quarterback in the Big Ten, so he quit Illinois for North Carolina A & T. Do you know that the chairmen of both General Motors and General Electric graduated from UMass? Bob Dole? He went to Washburn Municipal University.

The minority leader of the US Senate, Tom Daschle, went to South Dakota State. Speaker of the US House of Representatives J. Dennis Hastert went to Northern Illinois University. Dick Armey, the House majority leader, took a bachelor's degree from Jamestown College. Winston Churchill? So slow a learner they used to write to his mother to come take this boy off our hands.

I know what you think: Spare me the sympathy. It still hurts. But let's keep this in perspective. What did Magic Johnson say to the little boy who also tested HIV positive? "You've got to have a positive attitude." What happens when you don't keep a positive attitude? Don't ask.

This college thing? What happened is that you rubbed up against the reality of big-time, maybe big-name, institutions. Some they pick, some they don't. You lost. It'll happen again, but let's hope it won't have the awful kick.

You'll get tossed by a girlfriend or boyfriend. You won't get the job or the promotion you think you deserve. Some disease may pluck you from life's fast lane and pin you to a bed, a wheelchair, a coffin. That happens.

Bad habits you can change; bad luck is nothing you can do anything about. 

Does it mean you're not a good person? People like you, if not your resume. There's no one else that can be you. Plenty of people think you're special now, or will think that, once they get to know you. Because you are.

And the admissions department that said no? Screw them. You've got a life to live.

Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.