Students attach unnecessary stigma to college rejection


Noah SIraj

Students and their families tour the Ivy League University Yale.

‘Tis the season to be jolly… or not, for high school seniors stressing over college applications and the unnecessary stigma behind them. Many students fear rejection and the alleged shame from having others know of it, so they choose to bottle it all up and keep where they apply a secret. But in reality, people exaggerate the impact of these individual college decisions to seem like they matter much more than they actually do.

Mary Schmich, from the Chicago Tribune, says it is all about perspective. Rejection is often just “an ‘alternate route’ sign that takes you in fascinating directions you may not even have known existed. Schmich talks about Ashley Bunnel, a reader that wrote in, whose dream school Dartmouth rejected her. She attended Knox College and ended up with a wonderful life with no regret over her college decision.

This feeds into the theory of hedonic adaptation. In a classic 1978 psychology study by a trio of researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Massachusetts, 22 major lottery winners, 22 controls, and 29 paralyzed accident victims reported on their personal happiness. It turns out that the major lottery winners and paralyzed accident victims reported similar levels of happiness from different day-to-day activities.

This phenomenon that people get used to things that once made them happy, called hedonic adaptation, applies to college decisions as it does any other major life event. At the end of the day, students who go to one particular college over another won’t have a significantly happier life because of it. The monstrous stigma attached to college decisions ultimately boils down to just that: stigma.

Schools like Palo Alto High School in California came up with creative solutions to rejection stress. With their Wall of Rejection, students “voluntarily and publicly” post their rejection letters on campus. By making rejection more public and jovial, students there are less stressed about the impending decisions and as fearful of rejection.