In mid-April at Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, Lynda McGee, one of the school’s guidance counselors, checked her paper shredder. She had to make sure it had the optimum effect: loud, obnoxious, and finite.
Soon her senior students would be parading into the room with rejection letters from colleges across the country, and those papers need to be chewed up as dramatically as possible.
“You have to learn that you’re going to survive and there’s a rainbow on the other side,” said Ms McGee, who started the school’s rejection party about a decade ago and has since refined the event.
Today about a quarter of the upper classes attend the party. The only ticket required is a rejection letter.
“You have to print it out because there’s no satisfaction in deleting an email,” Ms. McGee said with a laugh. Each student takes turns naming the college that scorned them before putting the letter in the shredder as the others cheer.
Afterwards, they receive a sundae and promise not to be defined by the university they attend. “Ice cream heals all wounds,” said Ms. McGee with the confidence of a teacher who did her research. The student with the highest number of rejections (17 this year) will receive a gift certificate from Barnes & Noble.
It’s officially college rejection season for many — and, of course, acceptance season for some — as high school students receive decision letters. The rejections are piling up at a dizzying rate: Between the 2019-2020 academic year and 2022-2023, applications to colleges increased 24 percent, according to the Common Application report (partly due to the Common Application, a single application used by more than 1,000 colleges).
The result is more rejections, with some colleges touting their low acceptance rates (or high rejection rates, depending on your perspective).
Of course, college isn’t the only rejection option. High interest rates and recession concerns lead to layoffs and a relative slowdown in hiring — so rejections are plenty after high school, too. Some graduate schools and even professionals are trying to combat the situation with their own rejection parties, rejection walls, and even resumes filled with nothing but rejections.
Social media and societal norms often tell us to hide rejections and any negative situations, leading to the false belief that something is wrong with you because you were rejected, said Mark R. Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the Duke University, which studies rejection.
But rejection parties help us realize that this is a normal part of life, and they allow us to share our rejection stories. And, said Dr. Leary, these parties put a light-hearted spin on an otherwise unfortunate and stressful event.
“It’s harder to take a rejection as seriously as we make it a party,” he said.
Nick Hopwood, a professor of professional learning at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, created a rejection wall of fame after receiving two rejections in one day: a research grant proposal and a research article rejection. Dr. Hopwood talked about his rejections to a co-worker, who told him how reassuring it was to hear that he, too, is being rejected.
“It got me thinking about how other people see me and a lot of other academics: we see the success,” said Dr. Hopwood. “It is like watching a swan glide effortlessly down the river, and not its feet paddling frantically, hitting all sorts of stones on the bottom.
Barbara Sarnecka, a professor of cognitive sciences and associate dean of graduate studies and research at the University of California-Irvine, holds a rejection party with champagne, Roman Emperor costumes, and gowns when her graduate students’ rejection pile — for academic journals, conferences, trade shows , scholarships and jobs — reached 100.
Dr. Sarnecka started the tradition a few years ago of normalizing rejection as part of academic work.
“By sharing our rejections with the group and even celebrating milestones like 100 rejections, we counteract the sense of shame and isolation that budding academics often have,” she said.
Anna Swann-Pye, an AP literature teacher at Nest+M, a New York public school, said she clearly remembered the sting of her own rejections. During her teenage years, she hid her tests, reports, and college letters under her bed.
“It wasn’t so much for fear of getting into trouble as that these documents caused a deep sense of shame in me, as if they were proof of something I already felt about myself: that I wasn’t as good as my friends or classmates ‘ said Ms Swann-Pye. ‘It took me far too long to understand how natural and normal rejection was.’
When she became a teacher, she was determined not to let the same thing happen to her students, so she started a rejection wall for seniors. (It also helps that the rejection parties are often for a subset of students who are likely to go to college somewhere, which lessens the blow.)
Once a student hangs a rejection letter on the wall, they’ll be greeted with applause and a chance to dive into the rejection bag, which is filled with ring pops, candy bracelets, and Rubik’s Cubes. Students also supplement the wall with their own messages, such as “You’re too sexy for Vassar” or “You’ve been rejected, you’re too smart.” Love, NYU.”
Laura Sanchez, 18, a senior with Downtown Magnets, was disappointed when she received five rejection letters from colleges including Pomona, Scripps and Cornell. But she was looking forward to taking those rejections to her school’s rejection party.
“I’ve also been able to process and appreciate that I still have a lot of options,” she said, “which is extremely important to me as a first-generation Latina who wants to make history within her family by being the first person to achieves.” education.”
Her classmate Zhangyang Wu, 18, was rejected from MIT and Princeton. “When you think about a party, you think you win something,” he said. “But the rejecting party uses the kind of hype to help students who expressed themselves. We have all been rejected and it is a norm that we must recognize.”