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Salutatorian Reflects on College Rejection Experience
May 17, 2019
Wellesley College – it’s the alma mater of Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer and the second woman to command a space shuttle mission. To most seniors applying for college, Wellesley would rank high on their lists, but to salutatorian Pujita Shukla, it was initially just a safety school.
Throughout high school, Shukla has taken 13 AP courses, received above a 1400 on her SAT, been in basketball and several honor societies and shifted between the first and second ranks of her class. Among the 12 colleges that she applied to this fall, her favorites included Northwestern, Brown, Stanford, Columbia and The University of Chicago.
“College has always been a super big thing in my life from a very young age,” Shukla said. “I really looked forward to college and I had this perfect idea of it being an amazing opportunity to study and learn in an environment made for education.”
Although she wasn’t sure what to expect from these highly selective colleges, Shukla did not expect to face rejection letters from each of her top schools. Even worse, all of the Ivy League schools released their letters on the same day in late March, on what is called Ivy Day.
“I really hated the college process,” Shukla said. “It really broke down my idea of my self-worth and it sucked. I was super sad all the time and my self-confidence really took a hit.”
She did receive approval from six schools, however, including Wellesley, UT Austin and others which Shukla said she expected to get into. These schools are what Shukla refers to as her safety schools, the ones which acted as backups throughout her admissions process.
“When I first got accepted into Wellesley, it didn’t really matter as much to me because I expected to get into that school,” Shukla said. “Even though it’s really hard to get into Wellesley, I knew that I was capable. I had the right credits and I wanted to go play basketball there. Everything just added up and I was set up to go there, so my reaction was not as exciting as it could have been.”
Ever since middle school, Shukla said that she has been a driven student. While she admits to procrastinating like everyone else, she often stayed at home throughout high school so she could catch up on work, unless she was at basketball.
In her freshman year, she sat in Cami Jenschke’s AP Human Geography class when she and others looked up their class ranks for the first time. After reading that she was first in her class, Shukla said that she immediately shut her screen in disbelief.
Since then, Shukla has dropped to second rank, which she said was partly due to her decision to stay in basketball instead of quitting for the sake of a GPA boost.
While she said that her parents leave it up to her to get good grades, Shukla’s father began setting her txConnect account to send alerts for any grades below a 95 in her sophomore year. As she worked to achieve and hold her salutatorian position, Shukla said that she had an expectation of getting into a dream college, which made her rejection process all the more difficult.
“It was damaging because I really cared about it,” Shukla said. “I really wanted it, I really worked for it and my whole life I had been thinking about it. I would say that the importance it had in my life was the reason that the rejection was damaging.”
Shukla was left with a handful of six schools that she initially had little enthusiasm about. At the top of her new list was Wellesley, an all women’s college, as well as the nearby UT Austin. Shukla said that she never expected to have an all women’s college end up on her list of final college choices.
“I didn’t really support it until the very end when I had to end up choosing,” Shukla said. “After I got rejected and everything was set on the table, I actually looked into it and realized that I really love that school. It wasn’t my biggest choice and it didn’t cross my mind until the very end of the admissions process after I had gotten everything.”
Going to this Massachusets school became more realistic for her after she visited a few weeks ago, Shukla said. During her visit, she was able to stay in a dorm, sit in on classes and get a sense of the school’s culture. In addition to being a top-ranked liberal arts college by U.S. News, Shukla said that she loved the unique style that the Wellesley students had.
“I really wanted to go to a school where I can be not who I am here,” Shukla said. “My two choices were UT and Wellesley, and for a while, I was [thinking] UT is comfortable and some of my very close friends are going to UT. I thought it would be so amazing to be around them and with them and I’d be happy, but I [realized] that I need to get out of my bubble. I have always wanted to get out, so why am I stopping now?”
Shukla decided to attend Wellesley to double major in math and Spanish, while also playing for their basketball team. At just a half an hour from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), she is also going to participate in an exchange program that allows her to take classes at MIT, as she intends to do research there in the future.
“I am super excited to go to Wellesley, and when I visited last month, I absolutely loved the environment,” Shukla said. “I never thought it was a bad school, but I just wasn’t as excited about it in the face of the Ivy’s.”
She recently bought a few more pairs of jeans and is on the lookout for new coats and boots to prepare for the cold winter weather at her new school. As she prepares her salutatorian speech for graduation and deals with senioritis, Shukla said that although her college process didn’t go as expected, she is happy with what she accomplished during high school and looks forward to her life at Wellesley.
“I don’t regret all the work I’ve put in because my high school experience was amazing,” Shukla said. “I had a great time at high school. I played basketball, I had great friends, a great support system and I got to know so many people in this school. I am very happy with what I did in high school. Now I have another four years to do a lot of cool stuff and get into a master’s program at another school.”