If you follow me on twitter or facebook, you’ll know that I recently found out I was rejected from both Harvard and Stanford. I think it’s important to blog about the process, not just for cathartic reasons, but for anyone else who might be in the same boat or thinking about applying to graduate school in the future. I waited a couple of days before typing this, because on Saturday I was still crying, wondering all of the “What if”s, and feeling melodramatically doomed about my future.

I’m feeling significantly less doomed, though my self esteem hasn’t quite recovered yet. For those of you who don’t know me well, I have very, very high standards for myself. Where any normal human being would be elated about their achievements, I can always come up with ways that I can do better. I know I’m a successful student because I’m so hard on myself. While I know I’ve accomplished some great things in college, it still never feels like enough.

And I’m my worst critic. All of my professors have been constantly telling me since freshman year how grad schools would just be dying to snatch me up, that they’ll be heavily recruiting someone with such a strong record, that having more than one publication under my belt would make me a shoe-in, that I’m Harvard and Stanford material, easily. And for most of the time, I was skeptical. I knew I was a good student, but I was going to keep working hard and not get my hopes up. I’d apply, and see how it went.

And apply I did. And then I got interviews. I was flown out, wined and dined, told by department heads how my resume was ten times better than theirs when they were applying to grad school, told how other schools paled in comparison to theirs, told how they can’t wait to see me in the fall. I left suddenly believing what those professors had been telling me all of those years. For a rare moment, I felt that I really was smart and hard working enough to belong in Harvard or Stanford. I felt proud of what I had accomplished, that four years of working my ass off and being passionate about science had paid off.

And then I was rejected.

If I had never gotten an interview, or if the interviews hadn’t seemed like they blatantly wanted me, I wouldn’t have been as upset. But instead of this being a predicted outcome, it was a ginormous let down. I know I shouldn’t bitch about not getting into Harvard or Stanford, since I have been accepted to the University of Washington – which I loved and is a fabulous school in itself. It’s just that for once in my life I had the amount of self esteem I should have, and it was dashed against the rocks.

I actually felt a bit worse when everyone found out, because they were so shocked. My one professor just seemed to share my disappointment, but the other (a Stanford alumni) seemed mixed between flabbergasted and mad at Stanford. My friends seem to have the reaction of “If anyone should be getting into those schools, it’s Jen!” And that really makes me feel like I screwed up somehow – that the unanimous opinion is that I rock, yet I still failed somehow. Though to all of my friends and readers who tweeted at me, emailed me, commented at me, and texted me – thanks for the support. With the attention I got, you would have thought I had posted a suicide note or something (I’m not that upset, sheesh).

As for why I was rejected, you never know. Both letters can be summarized by “You’re awesome, but the economy sucks, so we have no money or space and more people applied this year, sorry!” And if that’s the truth, it actually makes me feel a little crappier. Any normal human being might feel relieved, but I hate it when things are out of my control. It drives me crazy that even if I had worked harder, I still would have gotten screwed over by chance.

And when it comes to grad school, there are so many variables to take into consideration. Maybe they really were only able to take a few amount of people this year, and I just happened to be the worst of the best – I should still be proud of being with such a smart group. Maybe way too many human population biologists applied, and labs had space for different types of genetics. Maybe Purdue has a crappy genetics reputation compared to other places people were coming from. Maybe I was less desirable since I haven’t already worked on humans. Maybe ten people have generously donating alumni for parents. Maybe I have the interviewing skills of a troll. Maybe they found my blog and saw it as a liability (I doubt this one, since all the profs were all “Yay atheist clubs!”).

You never know. And to keep my sanity, I’m trying not to dwell on it. Instead I’m reminding myself how much I did love UW when I visited, how I did get into an amazing and well respected genetics program, how awesome Seattle is, and how soon I’ll be the first person in my family to get their PhD. For once, I’m trying not to dwell on how I could have done better, but be proud of what I have accomplished.