From rejection to perfection

Today marks the one year anniversary I got rejected from my dream school. And no, it wasn’t Stanford — I didn’t even apply.

During college application season, I told myself over and over to never project all my hopes and aspirations onto a single university. Although I knew rationally that there was no such thing as a perfect school where I would live the perfect college life — adamantly proclaiming to my friends that I would be fine wherever I went — I secretly concocted a potent yet incredibly irresistible fantasy that would burn me when it eventually boiled over.

My collegiate paradise was nowhere near the same level as the Ivy League-hopefuls, nor was it cut from the same cloth of the UC-stans. Instead, I thought my most formative years would be spent at Scripps College, a private women’s university tucked away in Claremont, California with a undergraduate population of less than 1,000.

It may not have been many of my peers’ vision of a dream school, but it was mine.

Scripps encapsulated a protective bubble I longed to remain within as I transitioned from high school to higher education. As a 17-year-old, the foreknowledge that I would soon have to uproot my life and start all over in an entirely new environment scared me more than I let on.

I was a creature of comfort, and Scripps’ small student body and campus was reminiscent of a culture that I was familiar with in my equally small high school. In fact, the college was only a 40-minute drive from my hometown. It seemed only natural that I would attend Scripps and continue being who I had always been and doing what I had always done, just somewhere a little ways off from where I originally started.

A numbness settled over my body when I saw the word “unfortunately” emblazoned across my computer screen. No stiffly-worded condolences or mention of other “highly qualified” applicants could shake the bone-crushing disappointment I felt. I wasn’t even offered a waitlist option, essentially killing any hope left in me.

My smiles and “what-can-you-do” shrugs belied my unraveling composure that day as expectant friends and family inquired about my admissions into Scripps. With all the pride of a sulky teenager, I still pretended I had not yearned after Scripps for months on end while I awaited its decision.

It was like emotional whiplash when I received my acceptance into UC Berkeley the very next day.

When I saw pixelated, vibrant confetti animation greeting me as I opened my online acceptance letter, I sat in shock before I felt the excitement take over. Yet even my exuberance quickly gave way to fear.

I had been so set on Scripps that attending another college was a concept beyond my realm of imagination. Even an acceptance letter from a prestigious university couldn’t erase my long-held, preconceived notions of the life I thought I’d live after high school.

What made matters worse was that UC Berkeley seemed like the antithesis of Scripps. With a student population of over 30,000 and a sprawling campus hundreds of miles away from home, I was reluctant to accept my fate as a Golden Bear.

Still attached to a dream that had long died, I subconsciously sought out any flaws and faults I could pick out when I visited campus a few weeks later. It rained the weekend I came, painting an image of a somber, cement prison. I got lost along the winding paths and busy streets, which sent me the message that I would never find my way in the grander scheme of things. Upperclassmen told tall tales of grade deflation and apathetic professors, fueling nightmares of failing every class I would take.

Despite all my nerves, I knew it would be foolish if I denied myself a top-notch education from the best public university in the world. It didn’t stop my dread, however, from carrying over even after I submitted my intent to register, attended CalSo and packed my bags for move-in day.

Now, eight months into what I thought would end up being my personal hell, I can honestly say that UC Berkeley has become my second home. Like any other college, UC Berkeley comes with its own frustrations. But, the unforgiving weather I witnessed when I first came often turns into sunny days on Memorial Glade. Google Maps has become my savior, and the academic rigor I endure is now a call to action instead of an obstacle to in my journey.

The vastness of UC Berkeley noticeably narrowed as I formed my niche, joining organizations and befriending peers to add to my ever-growing support system. My newfound independence propelled me as I managed my schedule, dealt with the bureaucracy of the university and searched for next year’s housing on my own.

Scripps College rarely crosses my mind anymore. It’s a more distant, abstract symbol of my past self — a teenager who craved security and familiarity — that has been overwritten by the person I’ve become here at Cal.

The future can’t be predetermined, much less by a 17-year-old who barely knows what life has in store. Looking toward one path for so long left me blind to other unexpected directions that were just as available and with as many opportunities for success.

Sometimes, we end up right where we’re meant to be.

Fionce Siow covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.