Getting rejected from your first choice college can feel like a punch in the gut. But for students like Elizabeth and Tini, hearing “thanks, but no thanks,” turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to them.

Elizabeth Frank

As a high-school senior, I applied early decision to Stanford. When I first visited and took the campus walking tour, I really fell in love with the environment. The campus itself was a big draw, and of course the work that many of the school’s faculty and students were doing at the time made a big impression on me. I spent a lot of time agonizing over my personal statement and the rest of my application — this was the first college I’d applied to, which made the investment seem even more high-stakes.

When I didn’t get in, I cried. I’d really let myself imagine what college at Stanford would be like, so the rejection felt very personal. I was crushed. I grew up on the East Coast just outside of Washington, DC, and I didn’t know anyone who was applying to schools that far west. It felt like a big leap to take, but both of my parents had attended school in California, and I knew in my heart I belonged at a Golden State school.

I ended up at UCLA — a school that had always interested me, but I ignored at first because it didn’t live up to my Stanford dream.

I ended up at UCLA — a school that had always interested me, but I ignored at first because it didn’t live up to my Stanford dream.

Elizabeth frank

Fortunately, I ended up at UCLA — a school that had always interested me, but I ignored at first because it didn’t live up to my Stanford dream. As soon as I got there, though, the funniest thing happened: I forgot all about Stanford. It’s almost like I got cold feet about UCLA for a few months and then once I moved onto campus it immediately felt like I was always meant to be there.

I graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Statistics, and I credit the UCLA Statistics department with every professional success I’ve had since graduation. The academic and student community there was so strong that not only was I trained exceptionally well by a cadre of talented professors, I was also meaningfully connected to a lot of great opportunities. The department faculty were and continue to be deeply invested in their students, and that made such a difference in my college experience. The whole time I was there, it felt like a second home.

As a student at UCLA, I was involved with the Casa Heiwa & Angelina Mentorship Program — or CHAMPs — and also participated in Datafest, which stand out to me as two experiences that were formative to my professional development. I work now as a Business Analysis Manager for a charter management organization in California, and I still go back to Datafest yearly as a volunteer consultant.

After graduation, UCLA remains a big part of my life. I recently became the president of a regional UCLA alumni network, and I couldn’t be more proud or grateful to have gone to school there. It was absolutely the best place for me.

Tini Howard

I didn’t love high school, and I couldn’t wait to graduate. But as I counted down the days, I did cultivate a specific vision of how my college experience would look. It basically resembled the movie Dead Poet’s Society, with me entrenched in a community of smart, passionate creatives — and that meant I had to go to Sarah Lawrence College.

It felt like a forgone conclusion — I’d spent so much time thinking about this next big life step that it seemed impossible to me that I might not get in. But I didn’t. And in one of the universe’s most well-played metaphors, I broke my foot running to the mailbox the day my rejection letter arrived.

Rejection is a healthy part of life and helps shape our careers and relationships, but at 16, this rejection killed my college dreams.

Tina Howard

Rejection is a healthy part of life and helps shape our careers and relationships, but at 16, this rejection killed my college dreams. I was accepted to other schools, but I decided they simply weren’t worth the money. If I was going to make such a big financial investment in my education, I wanted it to be at my first-choice school — my only choice.

I tried a few classes at a local community college, but it didn’t click for me, so I changed gears and started focusing on building a career instead. I worked full-time at a few different jobs, from barista to receptionist to marketing consultant, and as I was stacking up professional developments, I kept thinking about my father’s achievements — he started his own company providing IT support for small businesses. He works hard, but he also really loves what he does as a self-employed business owner, so he finds the work satisfying.

When I reached my mid-twenties, I decided to follow his lead and started working for myself as a freelance writer. I had some success, but after a couple of y I ended up at UCLA — a school that had always interested me, but I ignored at first because it didn’t live up to my Stanford dream. ears — and my husband losing his job — we decided to move to Wilmington, North Carolina to reduce our living costs. The transition made me reassess my life and goals, and it became clear that I really wanted to go back to school and earn my bachelor’s degree. Neither of my parents finished college, so I decided it was an experience I needed to have. Only this time, I was going to do it on my terms.

Today I’m a senior at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and I’ll graduate with a BFA in Creative Writing in 2018. The school has an exceptional creative writing program, and the academic community is fantastic. In 2016, I joined one of my professors at a women’s studies conference in Florida where we presented a paper we coauthored about the evolving nature of women in comics, both behind the page and on it.

Being able to go to college as an older learner and with a new vision about what I wanted to get out of my time there changed how I perceived school. Rather than dreading class, I love going to school, and I appreciate it more now than I would have as a teenager. My life is in a radically different place. I realize that waiting isn’t for everyone, but being an older student certainly comes with perks — especially perspective.

Delaying my education has also helped me develop a sharper career focus. I’m a budding comic book writer, and I’ve spent time concentrating on my own work, including The Skeptics, which was published by Black Mask Studios in 2016.

Being back in school means I get to focus on writing as a craft and continue to push myself creatively as an artist. Now that I’m here, I can’t imagine having done this any other way.