How to Start Over at the Finish Line

The contributor of this article wishes to remain anonymous.

As university acceptance and rejection letters start rolling out, those on the short of the stick may feel helpless. Many articles on Digital Senior and Reddit detail other alternatives, but this article focuses on how the disappointment can affect your mental health. I will be writing a personal recount of how I have dealt with my university rejections, and how it took a toll on my mental health.

The Beginning

I took the A-Level examinations in 2019. Like any other student I worried about the outcome, and questions such as ‘will I fail?’ or ‘will I do well enough?’ started to flood my brain.

I would say doubt and fear are something all students will have. We put in so much effort during national exams in hopes of getting into a good school or the courses that we want, yet it might not be enough. Furthermore, factors like time management, health, the bell curve and even blanking out can affect your performance. However, it is important to note that you did your best at the time. You can’t beat a dead horse; what’s done is done.

My Life after Results Day

I did fairly well, but not well enough to get into the course that I had wanted at that time. (For context, my rank points were 72.5.) I was always interested in Mass Communications due to my interest in working in the media industry, and even considered attending Polytechnic instead of Junior College to study it. Therefore, I was pretty heartbroken when I saw my results didn’t make the cut.

I applied to NTU, NUS, SMU, and SIT and was still hopeful. I placed Mass Comms as my first choice in my applications because I’d heard stories of people getting in through discretionary admission. This blissful ignorance caused my downfall because I knew my score was unable to get a place in such a popular course, but I was delusional enough to think I could be one of the lucky ones. Furthermore, last year was a very competitive time, especially since more people were switching to local universities because of COVID-19. However, I made sure to include courses like English and Linguistics and Multilingual Studies as my safety net.

As time went on, an ominous feeling crept over me as I was one of the few amongst my friends that wasn’t offered an interview by any university. Long story short, it was a mistake to ignore reality and believe in luck. However, I did not expect to be rejected from every single university.

Dealing with Rejections

I remember crying harder than I have ever cried the day I received my NTU rejection email. NTU had always been my dream school since secondary school. It was always the goal. The fact that I wasn’t even offered a place in a course like English, when I knew someone that scored lower than me offered a place, left me extremely disheartened. I had always expected myself to get into NTU, I had expected myself to stay with my friends, and I had expected myself to achieve my goal. At that point, I started to wonder if I was a failure and disappointment to myself. What had led me to this point?

I’m a firm believer in fate, chance, and destiny. What is supposed to happen will happen for a reason, but I kept asking myself, ‘why?’, ‘what did I do that wasn’t enough?’ and ‘what was I lacking?’

I was fortunate that I had a supportive mother. She said we would find a way but I was still afraid of others judging me, and that I would be looked down on because of this setback. I felt lost so I let myself give in to the depression looming over me. At that moment it felt like my world was collapsing, but looking back it seems so small.

Finding Alternatives and Solutions

I knew I had other options such as waiting a year to reapply, applying for private universities, or retaking the A-Level examinations but I did not want to do that. I wanted to go to NTU with my friends, I wanted to achieve my goal and I didn’t want to be held back.

A friend suggested I apply for Kaplan’s Mass Communications course under their partnership with Murdoch University, as it was a good alternative sought after by those who want to study Mass Comms. However, before enrolling in the degree program, you had to finish the diploma program, so I applied for it and I finally had a place somewhere, but it didn’t feel right.

Apart from Kaplan, I enrolled to take the SATs and applied for some schools overseas that provided admissions for the Spring Semester in 2021 since the deadline for the Fall 2020 semester had passed. Studying in the United States made to me because I would be able to study what I wanted and still finish university around the same time as my friends. Hence, my educational journey would not be delayed.

Confronting the Painful Truth

During the Circuit Breaker lockdown, I was ashamed to face my parents everyday because I felt like I was a disappointment to them, that I was the black sheep in my family. They had their expectations for me, the way that I had for myself, but I failed them. They were supportive in finding alternatives, but a part of me just felt like they were judging me or seeing me as the ‘dumb one’ or the failure of the family.

I felt guilty because they were paying for my education, they were one of my biggest supporters and I knew they wanted me to succeed but I failed them. Even now, as I’m writing this, I tear up. I just felt unworthy of the support they gave me because I was the cause of my own failure and they deserved better a better child, someone who can make them proud.

It’s a different kind of guilt that I had to deal with, because why was I unable to succeed like the others when I had all the resources to? I know different people have different definitions of and different pathways to success, but I always saw myself studying continuously and working like everyone else, with no break in between like everyone else. Why wasn’t I like everyone else? For a long time, especially from May to July, I hid with my guilt and shade inside my room.

One of my favourite artists, Taylor Swift, released a song called ‘This is Me Trying’ and one of the lines was ‘so I got wasted like all my potential’ and that struck a chord in me because I was trying my best and I had so much potential, so why and what was I lacking?

I know I probably sound overdramatic and wallowing too much in self-pity, but this is my experience, and it was something that was really hard for me to accept and get over. If you’re unfamiliar with the five stages of grief; there’s 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and 5) Acceptance. I was stuck at depression for a long time.

Judgement

I remember seeing a post about someone being in a similar situation on Reddit and while they were met with support and suggestions, there were still a handful of rude people. For the rude people, this post is not for you. You did not experience it so you should not judge others for how they deal with their grief.

It’s not hard to stop yourself from typing a snarky comment because it can further fuel someone’s already declining mental health and intensify the feeling of being a failure.

The Result of My Back-Up Plans

Fast forward a few months, and I was already studying at Kaplan’s diploma program that provided me with an insight on what I’ll learn in Mass Comms. However, I was still depressed because my friends were in local universities and I felt alone. I made friends with those in my class, but I still felt disappointed in myself and that I didn’t belong. Maybe it was pride or the fear of judgment since those who are in private schools are often looked down on by others because of old stereotypes. At the end of the day, education is education, and we should be grateful to have access to different choices and alternatives when others don’t share the same access to opportunities.

Furthermore, I was accepted to the overseas universities I applied for. However, there was the issue of cost and moving my whole life to the US by myself, and at that time there was political instability, a lot of racially charged attacks and of course the way they handled the COVID-19 pandemic was not the best. Even now, there are more hate crimes against Asians, amongst other issues like gun control and human trafficking being big issues to consider amid the high university cost. After some negotiation with my parents, we decided staying in Singapore would be the best for me at the moment. Therefore, it was farewell to the backup plan of studying overseas, and I continued to study at Kaplan.

I learnt a lot about Mass Comms and what the general scope of the course was during my time studying in the diploma program, and I grew to learn that I actually hate it even though I was doing well. However, something I enjoyed was market research because I liked to search for patterns that will identify what consumers wanted to see in advertisements.

Coupled with some research and platforms like Twitter, I came to realize that I actually wanted to study something else that could be related to politics because I learnt I was actually very passionate about something I often stayed silent about. Events like George Floyd’s murder, misinformation about COVID-19 and other events made me realize I want to study politics and make a change. Upon research, I realized that sociology and philosophy were great choices to study because sociology focuses on the study of society whereas philosophy can provide opportunities to study political philosophy. I also started to take online courses on EdX for topics I was interested in because I finally had a drive that I was lacking before.

Moving On

I finally reached stage five, acceptance. I accepted that I was in Kaplan and if I were to apply for a local university again, I would be a year behind my friends and that would be okay. I considered this year a gap year because while I studied and gained a Mass Comms diploma from Kaplan, it was more of a year for self-discovery for me. My mental health went from a place so destructive to somewhere more peaceful thanks to getting to know myself, what I liked and knowing what I wanted instead of longing for the idea of something. I mentioned before that I thought I was unlucky, but I was actually very lucky and I still am. My family and friends both supported me, the only thing I was missing was me supporting myself.

At that point in time, you may feel that all hope is lost and you’re not willing to look at alternatives because you want to be like everyone else. You want to have a similar journey, but everyone has different pathways and timeframes to success. ‘Losing’ one year is okay. It took me a long time to accept that, and I am grateful it happened. I know what I want, I have a better idea of how to reach this goal, and I gained an extra diploma on the way.

The Silver Lining

I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe in fate, chance, and destiny. Sometimes, we experience setbacks because we had a lesson to learn or something to discover about ourselves and what we want to do. What I wanted last year is no longer what I want now, nor am I the same person. Adversities tear you down to the point you want to give up, but if you let yourself, you can come out stronger and smarter than before.

Last year, I was crying because I felt I had nowhere to go and this year, I am happier than ever. This year, I only applied to one school and I was offered a place at NTU in the course I wanted. NTU, the same school that rejected me a year prior, my dream school and now I have secured my spot.

To anyone who reads this and might be in the same situation, don’t be afraid of trying different pathways. Retake A’s if you have to or go to a private university. Don’t be afraid to check out other options, but most importantly, don’t doubt yourself and your capabilities because you didn’t get what you want. Take some time for yourself, cry if you have to but get to know yourself and what you want. then make your own plan.

Don’t let one hindrance define you and your journey. We often focus on the negative but there is always a silver lining. Your life, your path and if it means to start over when you’re already at the finish line, it’s okay. Remember that.

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