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What Started as a ‘Safety School’
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 just one of the 12 academic schools she applied to.
Throughout high school, Shukla has taken 13 AP courses, received above 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 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 half of her 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 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. After being rejection from several of her top schools, she said it was difficult to feel excited over these acceptance letters.
“I wasn’t as nervous about getting into Wellesley,” Shukla said. “Even though it’s really hard to get in, I was blinded by the big-name schools, so when I got in, my reaction was not as exciting as it should have been.”
Since middle school, Shukla said she has been a driven student. Although her parents always left it to her to get good grades, her father did set up her TXConnect account to send alerts for any grades below a 95.
In her freshman year, Shukla sat in Tami 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, she immediately shut her screen in disbelief.
Shukla has since 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. She often stayed at home after school to catch up on homework when she didn’t have practice.
When she was rejected by her dream schools, Shukla said that all this work she put into her education and admissions is what especially toll on her vision.
“It was damaging because I really cared about it,” she 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.”
After her rejection, Shukla was left with a handful of six schools which she initially did not see herself enrolling in. However, when she began researching the schools, she found that Wellesley deserved to be at the top of her list – due to its basketball program, unique culture, strong alumni network, and proximity to Boston.
“I didn’t feel the same excitement until I sat down to look at my options and had to choose,” Shukla said. “After I got rejected and everything was set on the table, I actually looked into Wellesley and realized that I really love the school. Wellesley had been wrongly overshadowed by the Ivy’s and other big-brand schools, and unfortunately, I didn’t love it until late in the process.”
After visiting Wellesley, an all womens school in Massachusets, Shukla said that it became clear that it was where she wanted to go. During her visit, she was able to stay in a dorm with her future basketball teammates, 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 atmosphere that Wellesley had, the students’ unique style and its collaborative environment.
“I really wanted to go to a school where I can start fresh,” Shukla said. “My two choices were UT and Wellesley, but after visiting Wellesley, I knew I had to go even though it meant going far away from my home and family. Wellesley had everything I wanted and more.”
Shukla decided to attend Wellesley to double major in math and Spanish, while also playing for their basketball team. At just half an hour from MIT, she hopes to research there on top of her education at Wellesley.
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 pushes through her six AP tests, prepares her salutatorian speech and deals with senioritis, Shukla said that she is finally happy with where she’s at.
“The college admissions process doesn’t determine your self-worth,” Shukla said. “It was important for me to face rejection, and even though I was disappointed initially, I am so grateful for the process. I couldn’t have landed at a school this amazing if the rejections hadn’t opened up my eyes. I loved high school, and now I am excited to see what my future at Wellesley holds.”