Oberlin Blogs

On Rejection

January 26, 2009

John West ’10

Last semester, I received a letter from Oberlin's College of Arts and Sciences officially accepting me to the Double-Degree program. I came in as a connie, and, though I took about half of my classes in the College, I wasn't actually a Double-Degree student.

I'll be honest with you: I applied for the Double-Degree program in High School, and I was rejected. More to the point: I was rejected from about half of the schools to which I applied. I kept the rejection letters, though. They're in a drawer somewhere. The plan was, when I get the Nobel Prize or the Pulitzer or some other big award, I'd send my rejection letter back to the colleges that rejected me with a big old F___ You scrawled on the top.

Of course, I'm older now, and ever more mature, so I won't write anything on the rejection letter. I'll just send it. They'll get the message.

Okay, I won't be sending Oberlin Admissions a copy of my original rejection letter (I don't really have to: they can read about it here). But all pettiness aside, the moral to this post is that things can work out. I'm double-degree now. And, frankly, I'm glad I got rejected from Georgetown. I mean, ew. Yes, things work out. You can transfer; you can wait; you can reapply. Things can, in fact, work out.

But, if you're like me, and--despite near-constant rejection by romantic interests--you don't take rejection from colleges that well, here are a few things you might enjoy.

(1) Brian Doyle wrote a hilarious piece for The Kenyon Review about publishers who reject him. Some gems:

One of the very best: a rejection note sent by the writer Stefan Merken to an editor who had rejected one of his short stories. "Please forgive me for not accepting your rejection letter," wrote Merken. "At this time I cannot accept a rejection of my short story. I accept more than 99 percent of the rejections I receive. Many I don't agree with, but I realize that accepting a piece of fiction for publication is a very subjective judgment call. My acceptance of your rejection letter is also a subjective process and therefore I am returning your letter to you. I did read your letter. I read every letter I receive. Your letter was well-written, but due to time constraints from my own writing schedule, I am unable to make editorial comments. I do make mistakes. Don't you, as an editor, be disheartened by this role reversal. The road of publishing is long and tedious. You need successful publications and I need for successful publications to print my stories. I will expect to see my story in your next publication. Good luck in the future."


And for you admissions officers, here's a thought:

I still have enduring affection for the creative no, such as this gem sent to a writer by a Chinese publication: "We have read your manuscript with boundless delight, and if we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And, as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity."


Frankly, I'd paste the entire article here if that weren't in violation of both Oberlin College policy and copyright law, so just go read it.

(2) I don't really know how the college admissions process works, but I did a brief stint at a children's publishing company, sorting the boxes of rejected manuscripts into piles: (a) things we would never publish. Ever. (In this category, for example, a book called, if memory serves, My Baby's Book of Boo-Boos, which included all the ways a baby could suffer accidents), (b) things we won't publish, but don't make us feel dirty/offended just reading them (in this category: simple bad idea, poorly written books, etc.), (c) things we won't publish but things that make us wonder what else that author has up her or his sleeve (in this category books that legitimately "don't fit" but are well written, etc.).

We had three different rejection letters. I would pair the rejection letter with the manuscript and send them on their way. The rejection letters for (a) were pretty mean: pretty much just a No, thank you. The rejection letters for (b) were a little nicer, but with the same sentiment as (a). The rejection letters for (c) were the nicest, in which we asked them to keep sending us their stuff.

The point of this story is to illustrate the fact that, sometimes, people who reject you mean what they say. So, when Georgetown thought that we weren't a good fit, when Aliza in 8th grade told me that we weren't right for each other and that it wasn't personal, they may have been telling me the truth. Keep that in mind.

(3) Of course, the definitive thoughts about rejection probably come from Don Hertzfeldt, who received his fifteen minutes when I was in high school, but is still relevant now.

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