The Upside of Rejections & How I Fell in Love with My Safety School: ASK ME ANYTHING!

@ski_racer is a student at the University of Nevada, Reno. In high school, she was a high-achiever. For reference, here is a brief sample of her stats:

1570 SAT/35 ACT
4.0 unweighted GPA, including 12 AP classes
Student athlete and principal cellist
Research lab internship

She applied to 10 schools: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Boston University, Syracuse, University of Idaho, University of Nevada, Colorado School of Mines, and MIT. Got rejected at Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth, waitlisted at Yale and MIT and was accepted to all the rest, with U of I, UNR, and Syracuse offering sizable scholarships.

(Side note: She has no idea why she was rejected and her essays were lovely, so she won’t be able to answer any questions about why she was rejected beyond the usual ‘there are many qualified applicants every year… ’)

@ski_racer wanted a school with a ski team she could race for, more diversity than her hometown, and majors involving the environment. Her family wanted a school with a prestigious name.

She would have been happy at any of the schools she applied to, but UNR was her first choice. Being rejected from those more prestigious universities was a major turning point in her life, because she probably would’ve gone to Harvard or MIT or whatever, even though UNR was the best match for her. Why? Top-notch marketing, lots of ~history~, and pressure from the family.

Being rejected allowed her to choose her own path. Now, she is part of a niche major that she loves (and that doesn’t exist at all but one of the other schools she applied to), she is a day’s drive from home, and has represented Nevada at two consecutive national championships races.

Her advice to future applicants: fall in love with a safety school. She did, and that’s a major reason why she is happy today.

@ski_racer will be our Guest Student of the Week so make sure to ask her anything about receiving rejections, loving your safety school, following your own path, and anything else that’s on your mind.

The “fall in love with a safety school” advice is one that needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

Big congrats for finding the right fit!!!

This is a great post.

@ski_racer , how did you feel when you first started college? Were you concerned that you wouldn’t be happy?

Is your family happy with your decision now?

Such an important message. On another thread (geared towards performing artists) I posted,

“Forget the dream school, follow the dream!”

which was well received as that field is incredibly competitive for admissions (and life). Moreso than Ivies and T20s (like 1%-3% admission strictly via audition).

Actually think that applies everywhere. There are so many great schools. Taking the deep dive into fit is so important. Love the fact that she is in a unique major that couldn’t be found at the top schools, so for her, she’s at a top school.

@ski_racer , did you feel that once the "prestigious " schools were out of the mix that you were free to prioritize your interests more (including skiing)?

I often wonder about the students who want to study X, which isn’t offered at the "prestigious " school where they’ve been accepted who then matriculate at X and end up studying something else. You took the opposite path.

Also, can you tell us about your classmates and friends? As a very high achieving student at a school with a wide range of learners, how did you find your “tribe”?

Btw, @ski_racer , have always loved your posts. You are very thoughtful!

Congratulations on being accepted to your first choice school with a sizable scholarship !

Who determined that your college application essays “were lovely” ?

@ski_racer : Your last thread indicated that you were considering transferring to another school because you hated the city of Reno & were not being academically challenged at your current school (UNR). What is your current state of mind / plans regarding transferring to another school ?

@Lindagaf Thanks for the question! I was nervous about starting, but no more so than any other freshman. I would say that my first-year experience was fairly typical.

@rickle1 Great comment! Given that only 14 universities have accredited programs in my field, I totally agree with this!

@gardenstategal Great question! Being at a university where I felt comfortable probably helped me prioritize my other interests. However, skiing in college was always a priority for me, so I would’ve tried to make it work no matter where I ended up.

I have met so many interesting people at UNR, many of them through the honors program, as well as through the ski club. It did take me a little while to find my tribe, but it definitely got easier after I started taking more advanced classes.

And thank you so much for your kind comment!

@Publisher Thanks for fact-checking me! When I made that post, I was dealing with post-injury depression after a traumatic accident that required surgery. I was feeling a little lost. I have no plans of transferring and have grown to appreciate all that Reno has to offer.

My AP Literature teacher assisted me with my essay.

Congratulations, @ski_racer! I had followed part of your journey, and I am very happy about where you landed. My own daughter I believe has lived rickle1’s advice of “forget the dream school and follow the dream” by discovering that the grass is actually greener for her at her state flagship than at Columbia. College life is about so much more than the prestige associated with the college itself. It seems that with your maturity and wisdom, you discovered this earlier than many. Wishing you continued happiness and success!

And, in agreement–I think–with @whidbeyite, OP discovered that one’s major and participation in one’s sport are very important factors when selecting a school.

@ski_racer Congratulations! I couldn’t LOVE this post more! This story is so similar to our sons, who if he had gotten off the waitlist he would have gone to Harvard or Columbia. Valedictorian, perfect stats, numerous awards …etc. But instead he accepted a very generous merit scholarship at his safety school in our hometown… the University of Pittsburgh. He had a storybook freshman year for a pre-med chem major. We truly believe God put him where he was supposed to be. As a freshman he walked across the street from his dorm to shadow numerous surgeries and departments at the UMPC Medical Center, landed an incredible research project at UPMC which will continue this year. He volunteered on service days, maintained a 4.0 and is a member of the Honors College. I don’t think he would have had these extensive hospital experiences as a freshman at either Ivy and frankly, when considering the Ivy’s we overlooked the incredible opportunities such as the one’s he’s having with the prestigious University of Pittsburgh Medical School. The best part of it all… he will have zero debt when he graduates but better yet… he is in his hometown during this crazy Covid time. God is certainly good and knows what’s best for you even when you don’t.


Thanks for posting about your experiences. A couple of quick questions if you don’t mind:

  1. What were your experiences trying to get recruited as a student-athlete to Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth - all of which according to their websites have competitive ski teams?

I assume that you made inquiries to ski team coaches at the aforementioned schools but were unsuccessful drawing enough interest? What are your insights as to why that was the case?

  1. Were you the valedictorian at your high school?
  2. Which school(s) did you apply to early?
  3. Which schools did you receive offers from as a recruited athlete?

@caz0743 It certainly does seem like there is a higher plan! Thank you for sharing your son’s wonderful story!

@LostFan Thanks for the great questions!

  1. This is a complicated one, because college skiing is somewhat complicated. Of the schools you listed, only Dartmouth has a solid NCAA team. They are very, very good. Applying to Dartmouth was a last-minute decision and I would not have been able to make their team had I ended up there. Harvard's situation seems to have changed since 2018 (when I was doing research)--at that time, I remember them only having 2 female alpine athletes listed on their roster. Now, it seems they have a full NCAA program. Yale does not have an NCAA team, but they do have a USCSA team, which is what I participate in. However, the Yale team is not very good and rarely qualifies for USCSA Nationals (unlike Nevada, which almost always qualifies). I did not reach out to any of the coaches as I knew I was not fast enough to ski NCAA. I may have emailed the Harvard coach but I'm pretty sure I never got a response. USCSA tends to be more student-led, therefore I did not reach out to any coaches on that end either.
  2. No, I was salutatorian. My high school ranked based on weighted GPA.
  3. Harvard. Their campus was my favorite, with Nevada a close second (note: I did not get the chance to visit Dartmouth or U of I)
  4. I was not a recruited athlete, as mentioned in #1.

Another note on NCAA skiing: there are 374 roster spots on NCAA ski teams in any given year. Many of these spots are filled by European athletes. Some are filled by US Ski Team athletes. For anyone interested in college ski racing in the US, I encourage you to check out Ski Racing Media’s recent articles as well as the USCSA website.

Thanks again @ski_racer

You mentioned in one of your other admissions threads that you had legacy status at Princeton via your Princeton alum mother.

I’ve heard/read that the way to best take advantage of legacy status at the Ivies, at least, is to apply early. Had you heard the same before applying?

Why did you not end up applying early to Princeton given your mother’s connection to the school if I may ask?

In your other thread, I believe you mentioned not fitting into the social vibe at UNR as a freshman. Why was that the case and how did you overcome it?

Thank you!

@LostFan More awesome question!

Yes, I had heard that the best way to take advantage of legacy is to apply early. However, I liked Harvard better at the time.

Like any student, it took me a quick minute to “find my tribe”, so to speak. I think that my experience was very typical and would attribute it to the changes that come along with going to college: moving away from one’s hometown, being surrounding by entirely new people, balancing academics with every other opportunity available on a college campus, etc. I overcame it by joining the honors program, joining a major-specific club, and socializing with people within my department. It’s cliche advice, but the best thing you can do is put yourself out there.

Hi @ski_racer !

I am a high school senior about to enter the whirlwind of college applications (a moment of silence for my sleep schedule, please). I’m also interested in the environmental field.

First of all, I’m so happy that you found happiness at your safety school even though things didn’t go exactly to plan!

Second, I would like to ask for any and all of your advice for dealing with rejection, especially for the schools that you really wanted to attend. My top 10 choices are all highly selective, so I am just coming to terms with how despite being otherwise “qualified,” I have a very real chance of getting rejected from every single one of them.

It’s a very hard reality to face, especially since I’ve been looking forward to college for so long. I have found a few “safety” schools that I would be ok with attending, but as of right now, they don’t draw me in nearly as much as the top colleges.

And then there’s the matter of prestige. I come from a family where attending a prestigous school is a high indicator of success, but even without family pressure, it seems like there are so many benefits to attending a top college, from the financial aid to the networking opportunities to finding a job post-grad.

Long story short, how can I prepare to have a similar outcome to you, and handle it as well as you did?

Thanks so much!

@dairyfreequeen These are such important questions! My simplest, best advice: find a school that you love that is a safety school. It might take some digging, since these schools are often not as well-known, but I promise there is one out there for you.

Additionally, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume less “prestigious” schools have worse financial aid, fewer networking opportunities, or fewer job opportunities. I’m going to use UNR as an example. My tuition before aid as a WUE student is $11,000 per year. For high-achieving high school students they offer generous scholarships. They host university-sponsored networking events for different fields at least three times a month. Tesla is one of a few high-profile companies that actively recruits UNR grads. For me, I will automatically meet requirements for three different federal government positions when I graduate, due to my program’s accreditation. The university also hosts large job fairs at least twice a semester, and individual colleges will host smaller ones more often.

Doing research on these lesser-known schools can often yield surprising results. For example, UNR apparently has a really really good jazz program. The engineering program is also high-quality–I’ve heard that UNRengineers are very in-demand for a lot of companies headquartered in California. They are a Tier 1 university as well, which means they do tons of cool and important research.

In summary, dig deep! Find a safety school you love. You might have to look in unexpected places, but I’m sure there’s one out there. More detailed research into the school may also reveal details that surprise you (with the added benefit of possibly helping you family feel more at ease).

My more nuanced advice has to do with how you create goals. Just make sure that your goals and expectations serve you. If impressing others is the major reason why you want to achieve a goal, that’s probably not the best goal to be spending lots of time working towards. Reframing goals can help with rejections. For example, instead of “I want to go to Harvard” a better goal would be “I want to have a positive and worthwhile college experience”. The reframed goal is more achievable, mostly because it doesn’t rely on near-limitless external factors. The reframed goal is also much more long-term, giving you something to strive for throughout your time at whatever school you choose to attend.

I found these questions to be tough to answer but very important. Thanks for the challenge!