They had their chance

Today, tens of thousands of kids will have their hopes dashed. Let's show them why it won't matter. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Across the country and around the world, tens of thousands of young people will be steeling themselves this evening for big news.

That’s because today is Ivy Day, when the Ivy League and other top colleges reveal which applicants will be offered seats in the class of 2025.

It’s always stress-inducing, but 2021 is likely to be the toughest year ever, because of simple supply and demand.

First, the pandemic spurred a significant number of students who were admitted for the class of 2024 to defer for a year. Then, applications soared. As an example, Harvard had 40,248 applicants last year for about 1,600 spots. But this year, “more than 57,000“ applied.

That’s a 42 percent increase, and by far the largest number of applicants ever. It’s also a 300 percent increase from 2000, when fewer than 19,000 students applied.

Personally, I think prestigious universities (which get massive government funding) have a moral obligation to expand their size, given how many more applicants there are, and how much faster the population keeps growing.

Maybe they should even attempt to acquire the physical plants of less successful universities around the country. Imagine a Harvard campus in Oregon, or a Stanford program in Texas.

Find me another industry faced with that kind of growth that doesn’t try at least to accommodate the increase. Yet, so far, I’ve found few takers for this idea.

All of which leads to the fact that an unprecedented number of deserving young kids, who have just gone through a very difficult year, will have their hopes dashed later today.

Now, you know, and I know, that it’s not really the end of the world, even if it seems like it at the time. Half a lifetime ago, I had it in my head for some reason that the University of Notre Dame would be the perfect college for me.

Alas, they had their chance, and they totally blew it, but I’m still quite happy with my life.

I made great friends at my second-choice college, met my wife there … although we didn’t get married until after we ran into each other at the 20 year reunion… that’s probably fodder for another newsletter sometime…

Anyway, I asked dozens of people a while back who had this experience themselves (the part about getting rejected at their first choice college; not the part about meeting their future spouse at a reunion) to reflect on how things worked out.

Here's what nine of them had to say. If you know someone who’s waiting for what we used to call the “fat envelope” today, and they could use a little perspective, maybe share this with them.

First choice was UCLA; went to UC, Santa Barbara.

"I always thought I'd go to UCLA. ... I ended up not only loving the smaller atmosphere [at Santa Barbara}, but the central coast in general. I was there when [the movie] Sideways happened ... and ended up starting a wine business ... Those were good years, also because my wife happened to transfer in..."

--Mark Aselstine, founder, Uncorked Ventures

First choice was either 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 on TV shows like The Martha Stewart Show … to meeting my husband. I've now been living in NYC for 15 years … [It] 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

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. 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

First choice: Brown University; went to University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

"I applied to Brown University … 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."

--Erin Reynolds, PsyD, Clinical Director, Baylor Scott & White Sports Concussion Program at The Star 

First choice: Columbia University; went to NYU.

"I got rejected from Columbia University and it worked out in my favor because at New York University, I got my housing paid for. At [that] time, I needed a home because I was also homeless. I didn't have family to stay with, so the dormitory became my home." 

--Tamara Murray

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. … 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.

First choice: Duke University; went to: University of Rhode Island.

"I grew up in Providence, R.I., attending Classical High School. ... Not wanting to go to college in my home town, I summarily dismissed Brown and insisted I would go to Duke. I made some tragic mistakes on my application. 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 … I used this chip to graduate early, start multiple businesses, sit on boards ... and be one of the young donors who gives back to URI. [Also], I did meet my wife at URI."

--Chris Jarvis, Jarvis Tower

First choice: Notre Dame University; went to: Indiana University.

"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. I [took] my first creative writing classes at IU with amazing professors. … I ended up exactly where I needed to be with friends and faculty who have continued to shape my life to this day." 

--Annie Sullivan, author, A Touch of Gold

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 ... I could feel the pull of the city. ... I fell in love with NYU. But alas, I was rejected. I chose to attend Syracuse University instead due to their strong business program. … Orange pride quickly grew on me!

Any suggestions to consider transferring were shot down with a nice, 'No thanks. Bless your heart.' ... In fact, if 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  


I’d be willing to bet my last dollar that some of you have stories as good as these or even better, about the college you really wanted to go to, or the life choice you thought everything depended on—and how the best thing that ever happened was not getting what you thought you wanted. Let us know in the comments.

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7 other things worth your time


Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Wikimedia. I’ve written a bit about Ivy Day before at Inc.com. If you’re not a subscriber, please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

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