“What if I do not get into any good schools? What if they can not see all of my hard work? Why do I do so much only to be admitted into the same, unimpressive schools that everyone else goes to?”
Questions like these are what consume the thoughts and lives of high school students. Between devoting years to advanced classes, extracurriculars and passion projects to highlight our strengths and leadership abilities, we do everything in our power to curate the most impressive high school résumé for admission at a top 20 university.
While this dedication, perseverance and “grindset” we adopt throughout high school teaches us how to be ambitious and goal-oriented the problem arises when students who get rejected from prestigious schools assume that they will be unsuccessful in the future they have yet to set foot in.
This spring, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was the most applied-to four-year university for the fourth year in a row. Seeing approximately 145,900 freshmen applicants, the acceptance rate to UCLA decreased to 8.6% from 10.8% for the class of 2026 and 14.3% for the class of 2025.
This acceptance rate is even more selective compared to that of the other top 20 schools in the country such as the University of Notre Dame, which saw an 11.9% acceptance rate out of 28,351 applicants and is approaching that of Dartmouth University’s which saw a 7.9% acceptance rate out of 28,841 applicants this spring for the undergraduate class of 2027.
These percentages have a frightening effect on high school students who will be applying to universities in the near future. But College Essay Guy, a nationally recognized college essay expert and college admissions counselor, says the increase in selectivity is that “it is more of an indication of the high volume of applicants.”
With college acceptance rates declining more and more as the number of applicants is on the rise—a result of tens of thousands of high school seniors applying to the same top 50 universities—large pools of rejected students forget that there are plenty of other universities that—despite their lesser popularity—also have a lot to offer in financial aid, great coursework and credible career resources.
Because of the infatuation I and many others are guilty of, we forget that the effort poured into our undergraduate experience at any of America’s nearly 4000 universities is what can still get us just as far. In lieu of this, students should learn to detach themselves from the idea that the grandeur of the school they attend is a direct representation of the direction in life that they will take on.
For senior Kailyne Zaarour, immersing herself in the medical field after high school through internships and job shadowing opportunities throughout the next four years of her life is something that excites her.
“I [have not] picked which college I am going to yet. There [is] an Open House this week so I am going to visit the colleges first but I am mostly deciding between UC Riverside, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, and Cal Poly Pomona,” Zaarour shares.
Her aspirations for her college life speak to students who might feel insecure that they have not experienced everything within the field they are pursuing.
“I will be majoring in Biology, but because I do [not] have that much experience to really know what I want to do in the medical field, experiencing more internships and job shadowing opportunities is something I really look forward to,” Zaarour explains.
Zaarour spent her four years in high school devoted to the Royal Wilson Marching Alliance (RWMA), Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the International Baccalaureate Certificate in English, and the biomedical sciences pathway—each experience giving her something to cover in her application essays.
“Although I focused on my leadership positions at school, I did try to include my responsibilities at home with my sisters and obstacles I had to face outside of school such as medical problems and other situations at home in my essays,” Zaarour shared. “I really wanted to choose the questions that would create a form of empathy in the reader and not repeat myself. I highly recommend people start their college applications earlier because the essay questions for the UC application are out, it is just up to the person to do them ahead of time.”
As for senior Emily Rodiles—a future Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology major deciding between UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton—the application process allowed her to discover new things about herself and how to trust in the direction she is headed.
“I thought I had a certain career path in mind but after seeing all the majors offered and talking to many different people, I changed my end goal and it might even change again once I [am] in college,” said Rodiles.
Rodiles shared how her college admissions experience taught her that these decisions do not determine her worth as a person and want others to know the same.
“At first, college rejections were really hard to swallow, especially after everything you have worked towards, but the most important thing to remember is that rejection is just redirection. Take as much time as you need to process and just make the best of it,” Rodiles said.
In the same way, senior Anthony Navarro, who will be majoring in Business Marketing at either Mt. San Antonio College or Cal Poly Pomona, advises students to do their research and investigate what every school has to offer, no matter where it is you are going.
“Each college has its own pros and cons. So knowing that will allow you to choose the right one for yourself,” Navarro shared. “When college applications would get stressful, I just took a deep breath and reminded myself that everything was going to work out eventually. Writing college essays and filling out applications reminded me that I can achieve anything if I set my mind to it and work hard.”
Navarro is just one example of the overall increase of seemingly shoo-in college applicants shifting their sights away from a four-year college and instead going to community college because they either did not get into their top school or were offered inadequate financial aid. Furthermore, saving thousands of dollars by getting a general education at a community college before transferring into a “big name” four-year university is looking much more appealing and realistic for many students.
Even though they are not attending the most prestigious institutions, these seniors will be just fine. One thing that has personally encouraged me is how my own brother had a 3.2 unweighted GPA throughout high school and got into a small private school in Hawaii. Even so, he is currently in his second year of nursing school there and is on the Dean’s List, a merit-based scholarship for students who perform well academically.
His experience shows just how successful people can be when they look past the short term. Your GPA is just a numerical value; it does not measure your chances of success in the real world years after high school. We need to learn that this is not the only marker of our capabilities and our obsession with it resonates with how intensely we tie our worth to the amount of “big name” schools that want us based on what we have accomplished in only 18 years of living.
Those that made it into less prestigious schools will still be able to achieve tremendous things in their careers, just like those who were admitted into the more prestigious schools. People tend to get caught up in a competitive mindset and the desire to get rich as soon as possible. I do not mean to say that we should all slow down and give half-hearted effort to our work; rather, we need to value every kind of journey toward our futures. Determining whether or not we “made it” is hard to quantify. So do not be discouraged if you have not reached success less than a year out of high school—a gradual growth towards what we have been dreaming of is just as admirable.