Verbum Ultimum: Ode on a Rejected Application

A rejected application doesn’t have to end in feelings of inadequacy.


The email comes back. It’s another “no.” Inboxes fill up with them, from clubs, from jobs, from professors. Many jobs won’t even bother to tell you that you haven’t made the cut, either — a denial through the attrition of time. Dartmouth’s social life is similar, with hoops to jump through to get through the doors of a manse on Webster or a crypt on Wheelock.

For most Dartmouth students, rejection can become commonplace. First-Year Trips, admissions tour guides, internships, entry-level jobs, RWIT, First-Year Fellows — line after line, rank upon rank of emails that all tell the same story: “No.” But for many of us, that feeling is all too new. The College accepts just 10 percent of applicants, making it among the most selective educational institutions worldwide. Those accepted typically excelled in high school. They maintained high GPAs, got near-perfect SAT scores, led clubs, played sports and built up résumés stacked with community service and summer experiences.

And when it came time for college applications, we all got in, and that was that. Application season was over, and it was time to start enjoying the collegiate life: better classes, independence, new clubs and opportunities. Except that isn’t how it works. Instead of being a reprieve from applications, a well-earned respite, life at Dartmouth can feel like endless applying — and, as often as not, those applications are met with rejection.

It’s not hard to take rejection personally. It’s not hard to ask yourself what more you could have done, how you could have worked harder, been better. Did I not get into the foreign study program because of my GPA? Was it a lackluster letter of recommendation? Am I a bad person? It’s dramatic, comical even, but this sort of thought process can grow and fester, potentially solidifying into a mindset of inferiority. Whether it’s the failure to get a leadership post in a club or the lack of a bid at a Greek house, whether it’s a rejection from a job at in New York City or an outbox filled with internship applications and an inbox filled with stony silence, the sense of failure, of inferiority, can build.

And why wouldn’t students feel like they’d failed? When a friend gets a spot as a First-Year Trips leader, but you are rejected, when you apply twice to the same foreign study program and don’t get in, how can feelings of competancy and competance survive? We must all remember that rejection does not indicate a lack of personal worth.

The loss of personal worth that comes along with rejection for many students can be crushing. For some, rejection can be put aside, be viewed as an impersonal numbers game, but others may take the hits hard, seeing each email with a “we regret to inform you that we’ve gone with another candidate” as a slight against their character and accomplishments. All of this, of course, is in large part a result of placing a group of highly successful and motivated individuals together in a contained environment in which they must compete against each other for a select few spots.

The adjustment period immediately upon entering Dartmouth is probably the most extreme example of “application shock,” but it’s not the only one. Professional recruiting is another. This fall alone, 768 students submitted 9,654 applications for 193 available positions. That results in a very, very high rejection rate, and it is not hard to take the lack of an offer personally, even if that feeling goes against a student’s better judgement.

But the process of submitting oneself to examination — and following rejection — is not simply an academic and vocational process. It’s also a social one. There is an inherently hypocritical element to any argument against an exclusive process at an inherently exclusive institution — which Dartmouth is. Dartmouth’s social life may be more inclusive than the social scenes in the cities and towns we will occupy after graduation, and attempts by the Greek system and other social groups to become more inclusive have seen some successes, but many will still feel personally hurt as a result of the process. The emotional toll can be significant, and it is the responsibility of both organizations — social, academic, extracurricular — and students themselves to remember that rejection is not a reflection of personal worth.

At this College upon a hill, we are given a unique opportunity to better ourselves, learn, and take up new experiences. The reality of a selective institution is that many of those opportunities are only available through applications. Many of those applications will result in rejection, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t apply. Instead, apply even more. Apply to clubs, to jobs, to FSPs, to anything and everything that catches your interest — and when rejections come in, as they may, do not interpret it as a slight against your person or an indictment of your worth, but instead as an opportunity for growth and future success.

And guess what? You’re going to get plenty of acceptances, too.

The editorial board consists of the opinion staff, the opinion editor, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

Correction appended (Feb. 25, 2017):

The original version of this column incorrectly stated that 9,654 students submitted applications through Dartmouth's recruiting program this past fall. This should have stated that 768 students submitted 9,654 applications. This article has been updated to reflect this change.