In response to the Supreme Court’s
Gratz v. Bollinger ruling last year, the University made its
undergraduate application process longer and more involved in order
to more carefully evaluate the individual merits of applicants. The
implications of this change have been scrutinized and widely
publicized. Last Friday, the Detroit Free Press reported that the
amount of students who applied to the University last fall dropped
significantly. Applications declined 25 percent for African
Americans, 13 percent for Hispanics and 8.5 percent for Native
Americans. Applications from Caucasian students, however, also fell
over 20 percent. Apparently, fear of hard work and rejection
transcends racial boundaries. That’s not news.
I’ve applied to more than my share of colleges. During
high school, I was obsessed with the idea of going to a small,
private university. Specifically, I fell in love with the
University of Chicago. They’re nerds, I’m a nerd. We
would get along perfectly, I was sure of it.
Obviously, things didn’t work out exactly how I had
planned. But they worked out nonetheless. I went to Michigan and
enjoyed myself. Too soon, it was sophomore year and time to start
thinking about studying abroad. Suddenly, I had another chance to
go to a small, private university. I immediately looked towards
Great Britain. Once I had my sights on England, it wasn’t
long before I began to dream of Oxford University.
At the first study abroad meeting, however, the program director
spent the entire time emphasizing the merits of the lesser known
universities. When she finally mentioned Oxford, she only stressed
how difficult it would be to get in. Oxford wasn’t the only
university in Britain, she repeated. Besides, the application
process would be long and difficult.
I left the meeting confused and worried. I began to think of all
the reasons I wouldn’t be accepted to Oxford. Had I taken
enough English classes? Would my professors write me good
recommendations? I thought back to my early college rejections and
decided not to risk it. I would apply only to King’s College
and the University of York; I was sure to be accepted to one of
But despite my misgivings, Oxford hovered persistently at the
back of my mind. The first part of the study abroad application is
the same for all universities, so I was able to fill it out without
actually deciding to which one I would apply. I didn’t make
up my mind until the week the application was due. “Oxford
University,” I finally scribbled on the top of the sheet, and
then immediately ran to the Office of International Programs to
turn it in before I could change my mind.
I was accepted.
I wonder at this. There are so many people who are smarter and
more talented than I am. But I also know that the majority of them
were just as scared by the director’s words as I had been.
Many, I’m sure, did not even apply. I’ve seen so many
bright people stumble and fall before they even started running the
race. Sometimes, I wonder if they’re really afraid of failure
or just afraid of success.
In the end, I was accepted to Oxford because I applied —
despite fear of rejection. I forced myself to fill out the
application, even though it was more difficult than the ones for
the other universities. This is exactly what so many students
failed to do when they decided not to apply to Michigan last year.
Maybe these students would have been accepted, maybe not. But
they’ll never know because they didn’t try. It’s
as simple as that.
Really, nobody knows why a qualified person is accepted or
rejected from a competitive university. Of course, there are
theories: colleges want minorities and legacy children; someone
with money, without money; from a good part of town, from a bad
part. Most of the time, though, it feels as if there are so many
qualified students for so few spaces that acceptances are random.
And because of this, you need more than just intelligence to
succeed in the world. You need will power, ambition, optimism
— and luck. You have to at least try, again and again and
again, until you finally succeed. And this applies to all areas of
life, not just college admissions.
Kellman can be reached at