Rejection sucks, I know.
I hate talking about my failures, so much so that I rarely even tell people about things that I’ve applied to so that if I get rejected, I won’t have to talk about the rejection. I think most of us are guilty of it. We don’t want people to know when we’ve failed or struggled. We’re perfect. Our lives are perfect. Our finances are perfect. Our careers are perfect. But they aren’t. They never are.
This isn’t a pity post. I don’t want sympathy about how much I “deserved” the things I failed to get. I don’t deserve anything. Nobody does. This isn’t me saying that I’m worthless either. I’ve done a lot of great things over the past 5 years since graduating high school. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with two degrees in three years. I went to a fabulous Master’s program abroad. I’ve written and published in numerous places. I became a professor (albeit an adjunct) at age 22. Many of these things were made possible by privileges I had by being white, American, and born to educated, financially stable parents. I’m killing it, and yet, I’m not. So let’s talk about my failures, the big ones, at least.
1. College (the first time)
During high school, I desperately wanted to leave Kansas, as many teenagers do. I got into Colorado State, the University of Denver, Loyola Chicago and was waitlisted at the University of Chicago. I didn’t apply anywhere in Kansas because I was so adamant about getting out (I know, hindsight is 20/20). I got a lot of scholarship offers, but because these schools were all either out of state or private (or both) I still couldn’t afford any of them. I ended up applying to Wichita State in April right before graduating. Because I applied so late, I missed the scholarship deadline. I was devastated and depressed. I ended up making a lot of great memories and friends at Wichita State (and I currently work there now). Would my life have been better elsewhere? I’ll never know.
2. College (the second time)
I wanted to move to England after graduating and the easiest way to do that was to pursue a Master’s degree (which I wanted to do anyways). I applied to two nationally competitive scholarships that would fund my Master’s degree abroad: The Fulbright and the Marshall. I spent at least 5 months working on and perfecting these applications. I had a horrific experience with one of my scholarship advisors. Because Wichita State is not an elite school, I was offered very little guidance in this process and was in fact the first Marshall applicant from WSU. Did this put me at a disadvantage? Probably. I still tried. I was rejected from both.
I was accepted to all the schools I applied to, but offered no other funding or scholarships. I self-paid my tuition and fees (which is very high for international students) with my own savings, my family’s very kind graduation gifts, what was left of my college fund, and student loans. In total, I spent well over $30,000.
3. College (the third time)
See a trend? To stay in England where my partner was and where I had built a life, I applied to PhD programs. I was accepted to all of them (including Cambridge) but did not receive any funding to actually attend. Funding for international students is notoriously scarce and most of it goes to STEM majors. Heartbroken, I decided not to pursue a PhD because it would’ve been financially irresponsible.
I applied again the next year with the same result. Acceptance, no funding.
4. The Dream Job
With a PhD off the table, I decided I would try and get a sponsored work visa to stay in the UK. I applied to hundreds of places and received two interviews. I was offered a job that was then revoked because the company did not want to sponsor a work visa. Months later, and right before my student visa was about to expire, I was invited to interview for what would’ve been a dream job for me: working as a coordinator for a university writing program. I prepared for an entire week. I was rejected with an email saying they went with someone with “more experience” which I suppose is fair.
I moved back to the US after that.
Of course, I only share when my poetry being accepted for publication, but let’s talk about how many times it’s been rejected. It’s more than I can count. I submitted to poetry journals for 2 entire years before my first acceptance. I’ve received 6 rejections so far this month. Because I used to delete my rejections, I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve been rejected. I would estimate that it is nearing 100. This number does not include all of the chapbooks, fellowships, contests, residencies, and reading applications I’ve also been rejected from.
Rejection sucks, but it isn’t unusual. Many students can probably relate to the struggles of wanting to go somewhere that is too expensive. Many writers understand the numbing process of submitting over and over despite constant rejection. We all go through it with schools, careers, relationships, and so much more. Talking about rejection is awkward and uncomfortable. We don’t want pity or the dreaded “there’s always next time” talk. It takes a lot to keep being resilient in the face of rejection, and personally, I think it would be a lot easier to keep trying if others were candid about their rejections too.
Thank you to anyone who has ever supported me. It should be said that every act or word of support (no matter how small) has helped me keep moving forward.
So, with that, I’ll keep pushing on.
*Note: Many of these rejections involve some sort of financial element. I hope that this sheds some light on how much of an advantage it is to be wealthy, or even financially stable. I was, and still am, incredibly privileged to have grown up in a financially stable family who planned and saved for college. I hope this shows that even for families who meet these expectations, financial barriers are still enormous for many students. Americans owe over a trillion dollars in student loan debt.