Dealing with Rejection in College


Adam Fondren

The Legacy Bridge that connects upper and lower campuses at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 5/14/17. Photo by Adam Fondren/Daily Utah Chronicle

By Nicholas Coleman

The University of Utah is home to about 32,000 students at any point. For some undergraduates, life at a large university can be overwhelming.

Although the U is known as a commuter campus, the presence of several thousand peers is certainly perceivable during the year. When the Utes stride into Rice Eccles Stadium, the air begins buzzing with energy, and The MUSS can be heard from a mile away. These moments enhance the undergraduate experience, and they make the U a special place to study and grow. Yet, for those who have only been exposed to smaller academic populations, the “college experience” can be defined by feelings of failure.

There is a strong likelihood you have heard at least one adult speaking nostalgically about the wonderful time they had as an undergraduate — personal growth, academic rigor and wide-open horizons are seemingly the hallmarks. As a freshly minted sophomore, however, I’d say college is a pressure cooker.

Despite the transformative nature, college is a time when you will likely experience failure. While 32,000 students at the U makes for exciting game days, it also means there are 31,999 others competing for the same opportunities. Maybe a little less, but the idea is the same — you’re not in a small setting. Instead, academic wit and a fair amount of luck become the difference between success and rejection. Personal growth cannot be achieved without acknowledging that failure is inevitable and beneficial.

Whether it is attributed to overworking, socializing too much or not being prepared, rejection is a constant variable in college. Academics are based on hours of lectures and studying, and internship opportunities are competitive. While one might have been successful in high school, this is not a prerequisite at the university level.

I counted the number of times I was told “no” this year. And by my count, it was a whopping 13 times — both academically and socially. How should one handle repeated failure in college? Well, there are three steps I believe all students should learn.

First of all, don’t make rejection personal. Separate the lost opportunity from your capabilities and identity. Sure, you might have failed a test, dropped your GPA, lost a scholarship and now face academic suspension. That doesn’t mean you can’t bounce back, you just haven’t learned how to perform better. Attributing repeated failure to innate personal qualities will ultimately wreak havoc on confidence. So let yourself grieve, let yourself feel the pain, but then let go.

Second, learn and adapt. The most significant lesson to learn is to not make failure personal — learn how to adapt and learn to succeed. Growth only occurs when one reflects and asks, “What can I do better next time?” Analyze the rejection. Ask yourself, “Why did I fail?” Then, take any insights and apply them in the future.

Finally, stop dwelling. Obsession over rejection sets in, and failure becomes inevitable, but what is accomplished by dwelling on the past? Instead of growing, this concentration intensifies the situation, trapping oneself in an emotional rollercoaster. Suddenly, the 31,999 students at the U become the enemy — an unhealthy and unproductive outlook on life. Rather than dwell on the past, use the time to focus on preparing for the next challenge.

With Fall 2017 bringing the largest entering class in the U’s history, these approaches will prove necessary for each incoming student.

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