Outdoor Education

Waitlisted: The Hard Truths of Not Being Accepted

By Tom Holland November 21, 2019

I had submitted all my applications and then time seemed to slow as I waited to hear back from the universities that had my applications (and my fate) in their hands. 

I had applied to my local safety school. I applied to the school that my older sister went to. I applied to a stretch school or two at the urging of my eager and excited parents. And I applied to my dream school, which always seemed like a ‘layup’ for me: it was a major university out west, one where the proximity to the mountains would be just a matter of minutes, and one in which my test scores seemed to place me right there in their incoming freshman class. 

So, I waited and waited. Checking the mail each day in April, I envisioned the moment I would begin communication with my freshman year roommate who undoubtedly would be into the outdoors as much as I. Time passed, and slowly we started to get word from some schools. I got into the safety school and some other local schools in the Midwest. All of these I had always considered backup options. 

Then the day came, I saw an envelope from my dream school. 

I tore into the envelope in the kitchen with my mom watching. Having been on Wilderness Adventures my junior year of high school, I longed to leave the Midwest. I wanted to get out and see the world and have more adventures in the mountains. In my hands was my ticket out. I would go to school out west and ski on the weekends and backpack through the summer, just like on my Grand Teton trip. It was going to be my launch into adulthood. 

And as I tore into the letter, there was one word that stood out to me in that moment: waitlist. 

‘Waitlist?’ I said at the volume of a whisper to my mom. I was in disbelief. 

Tears began to well in my eyes. I told her this must be a mistake and I needed to call the admissions office. 

My mom comforted me and then tried to distract me with the other college admissions letter that remained unopened on the kitchen table. This was my sister’s school, which, when applying, seemed like a reach for my test scores before this ‘waitlist’ nonsense, but now??? Well now it put the possibility of admission at her school at about as likely as me going to school on the moon

‘Mom, if I did not get into this school,’ I said holding the disappointing letter in my hand, ‘I am certainly not going to get into that one,’ I said through tears. 

I could feel my dreams slipping way. The school of my dreams is something that was ingrained in my mind since the 7th and 8th grade. There is pressure to perform to get into those schools where you will be your best, and when the world shuts that door, or rather, waitlists you, it feels as if the world you envisioned for yourself is crumbling. 

Begrudgingly, I opened the next envelope. 

‘Congratulations!’ It began…

Disoriented, I skimmed the letter and realized I had been granted acceptance into this school. I was dazed and in disbelief. I was also ticked off. The one school, which I had believed to be easier for me to get into waitlisted me, and this school, who had higher standards accepted me. 

My mom enthusiastically shared how proud she was of me, and I said to her, almost in disgust- ‘but it is just 90 minutes from here. There are no mountains, or trails or ski runs. There is more of this.’ She smiled, as moms do, and said ‘If you choose to go there, you will figure it out.’

Fast forward. 

I am now more than 20 years away from that moment, so what’s the message for all those aspiring WA alums who are in this process right now?

Well, I ended up heading down the road 90 minutes to attend college. The nearest true ski mountain was thousands of miles away, as was the nearest national park. Heck, there was not even an outing club at my school. Nevertheless, like my mom said, I figured it out. 

The lesson that I learned back from that moment of being waitlisted, is to ride the wave (as if you were on the wave on one of our Hawaii trips) when it comes to your dreams. At that moment, my dreams were incredibly specific, down to the trails I would be hiking between classes. It is easy to let that happen to yourself when you are striving for something. 

My university experience, although far from the mountains, led me to those same trails. It prepared me to find them – maybe not instantly, but it made me seek them out. I now know that had that waitlist moment not happened, I would be on a different path in this life and not pursuing the dreams I have had the opportunity to run after. Those dreams that have led me to sit here in this chair right now. And as I write this, I am so happy that I was waitlisted.