At Princeton, we don’t only learn in the classroom, we also learn life skills — like how to deal with rejection. And that’s just as important as anything we learn in our courses.
Three years ago, when I was accepted to Princeton, I was met with congratulations everywhere. Almost everyone believed that once I had “Princeton University” on my resume, I would be set for life and my future would be rid of all obstacles. Due to these influences, I came to believe it as well.
That is until reality proved me wrong. For me, and many others, rejection is common at Princeton. To an extent, one can document the Princeton experience as a timeline of rejections. See for yourselves whether this sounds familiar:
In your freshman year, you apply for several investing or debating clubs. A few of them invite you to a round or two of interviews, but eventually, and unexpectedly, you’re either ghosted or rejected. But that’s alright, there’s still sophomore year, so you shake it off and try your luck come next fall. Yet again, you’re surprised by another round of rejections.
This is not going so well, is it? You also find that, career-oriented clubs aside, arts clubs like dance companies and a cappella groups are almost all audition-only. Soon enough, sophomore spring comes around the corner and reminds everyone that it is Bicker season. For many, it suffices to summarize the entire episode with one simple word: rejection, of course.
At this point, it may seem like anything you had shown interest in and thought you were qualified for has rejected you. You laugh it all off in front of your friends, but the defeat you feel with each rejection doesn’t make you stronger, you think. Instead, it has given you overbearing doubt about your abilities.
While you may have thought that this was just due to the competitive nature of Princeton’s clubs, the curse of rejection latches onto you even as you apply for internships. The repetitive failure shatters your confidence again and again. Clicking the “submit” button on applications makes you wonder whether you are just inflicting more pain on yourself. You imagine that spending so much time going through rounds of interviews might only result in a “Thank you very much for your interest in … ” email a week later. And it does. And just like this, you get rejected by countless internship programs in your freshman, sophomore, and junior year to the point where it affects your mental and physical health.
Yet when you look around at your friend group, the people hanging out at your eating club, and the people in your classes, many seem to be breezing through life and handling everything with effortless perfection!
Perhaps different parts of this story ring true for different people, or perhaps you might be among the lucky few for whom these experiences sound utterly foreign. Most Princeton students come in as high achievers and little Einsteins from their own high schools only to face rejections here in frequencies and at magnitudes probably unknown to them in their prior environments.
While there are resources like precepts, office hours, and the McGraw Center available to help students overcome the academic learning curve, there are few resources that are available to guide students through the learning curve of handling rejections, the feeling of not meeting others’ expectations, and the feeling of letting oneself down.
One method that can be implemented by the University to target handling rejections is to enroll students in a course similar to the “Junior Academic Integrity Course” or “ClassPath” that normalizes rejections and teaches students how to handle them and how to support each other. In fact, the mutual understanding that ought to be established among members of the Princeton community is that there is no shame in getting rejected because everyone will face rejection. Perhaps, those who have never been rejected simply do not challenge themselves enough.
Princeton, or even student groups, could also help lessen stress about the job and graduate school search by setting up walls of rejections where students can print out and pin their rejection letters the same way some high schools set up walls of rejections for college applications. With or without names crossed out, the greater the number of rejection letters that get posted, the more the effortless perfection facade will crack.
Sometimes, I still look back on my own Princeton rejection stories with a sense of shame and dejection. But I also look forward to the day when I can look at each one of my rejections, view them as my badges of honor and rites of passage, and realize that I gave my best shot.
Kelsey Ji is a junior from Cambridge, Mass. majoring in Operations Research and Financial Engineering. She can be reached at email@example.com.