I still remember the first time I sat down and considered my options for graduate programs. As confident as I thought I was, the idea of applying to competitive programs scared me. I went to UC Riverside for my undergraduate studies and graduated with an average GPA. While I had graduating a year early going for me, I still felt like I was not “up to par” to the expectation of what a scholar should be. When my mentor teacher, Mr. Juarez, recommended I look into Teach For America, I laughed. The mere idea of applying into such a prestigious and overly competitive program made me so nervous, I thought it was easier to make a joke out of it. I still remember him asking me why I didn’t want to apply and while I don’t remember if I was as brutally honest as I now would be, the truth was, I didn’t think I could get in.
While that was the first time I had someone else question my own thought process, it wasn’t the first time I felt that way. I didn’t even think to apply to Ivy Leagues or highly selective colleges as a Senior in high school because I knew I would get rejected. I didn’t apply to internships in college because I was certain I would not get admitted. I didn’t apply for jobs that felt “out of my league” because I was sure I would not get the job and I didn’t want to waste my time.
For years, I said “no” for others without ever stopping to think I was becoming my own enemy, limiting myself of the many opportunities available for me.
Last year, everything changed. I met a great man who offered to provide me with some mentorship and advice. He offered me the opportunity to lead an education program and took a chance on me, even though according to my own standards, I was not “qualified” to be a manager. During our first meeting, I knew he was special. He was eager to share his wisdom, his experience and his passion for education with me and I knew I had hit the jackpot. But it was something he said that put my life into perspective.
After respectfully questioning my reasons behind not applying to graduate school out of state, he said: “Don’t say no for others. If it’s not meant to be, let them say no for you.”
In that moment, I felt my life decisions come back to haunt me. I remember going home feeling overwhelmed by the many “what ifs” from all the missed opportunities. One day, I took a “ME” day and spent the day writing down all the times I did not press submit because I felt unqualified, and all the jobs and programs I had taken a glance at, but never committed to applying because I was certain I would get rejected. With that list in hand, I was inspired to create a new list. In the new list, I wrote out all my goals and my dreams. I decided to make myself a new vision board, without restraints and promised myself to take risks, without fear or rejection.
As a college advisor, I find myself repeating his words of advice often. If there is one thing I want to engrain in every one of my student’s brains it’s that: “Don’t say no for others. If it’s not meant to be, let them say no for you.”
During the college application process, many students limit themselves without knowing. We hear about the students who got accepted to all the prestigious institutions and celebrate the exceptions with joy. Yet, we never stop to wonder why there aren’t more students applying. Our new generations are even more competitive than ever before but there is still one big challenge many of them are facing: the fear of taking risks and the fear of rejection.
I missed out on many opportunities and had to carry the “what ifs” for years. I refuse to let my students carry that same burden. So next time you ask a student where they are applying, challenge them by asking why not [insert any other school here]. And if by any chance, their response is along the lines of “I don’t think I would get in,” please share my mentor’s words of advice and help change their narrative:
Don’t say no for others. If it’s not meant to be, let them say no for you.
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