The night before I received a rejection letter from my top choice university, I dreamed about setting up my dorm at the school on the bottom of my list. In it, I unpacked a suitcase on a bed while some familiar faces popped in the door – some friends who I knew were already at this university, and a few others who, as it turns out, would eventually transfer there. Eerie and prophetic, sure, but I mostly remember feeling a simple sense of calm and happiness there in that little cinderblock room. I woke up nervous: had I made the wrong choice applying Early Decision to my “dream” school? No, I thought, and quickly shook off the feeling.
The next night, though, I received the first real rejection of my life. My “dream” college had not offered me a spot in their incoming theatre class, and for the first time, I had to face the prospect of re-imagining what the course of my “story” would be, and what it would literally look like. In hindsight, there was nothing to be ashamed of in being turned down by a program with an acceptance rate of 8%, but try telling that to an overachieving, cocky seventeen-year-old who was already wearing that college’s merch around her high school on casual dress days. I was devastated, and even more so, deeply embarrassed.
I showed up late to the college audition party. Being the only person in my small school who saw performing as more than a hobby, there weren’t many resources in place to guide me through the process. My parents supported my dream at every turn, but were the first to admit that they were two lawyers who knew nothing about the landscape of dance calls and even the existence of audition coaches. I knew, too, that auditioning for 20+ BFA programs was not what I really wanted (or that it was even advisable to apply to that many!), but I thought I was sure that Musical Theatre needed to be in my degree title somehow; academics were important to me too, though, and maybe it’s snobbish, but I wanted to attend a school whose name had clout in the “real” world. At the time, most musical theatre programs I learned about were attached to universities I had never heard of before. So, I put all my hopeful eggs into the very prized basket of one particular program, and was less than enthusiastic about other options. I set myself up for a messy, egg splattered end.
As I cried into my mom’s shoulder after showing her the rejection email, I felt the memory of the previous night’s dream creeping in, and the sense of home that had swept over me. “Not now!” I said to myself, “Right now I get to be sad!” And I was. “But maybe,” I distinctly remember thinking, “maybe this is actually for the best.”
I let myself be miserable and annoying for three days. After that, I sucked it up and finished my applications for a few more schools, including the university from that foreshadowing dream. I passed some prescreens, auditioned for a couple of BFA programs, applied for scholarships, all the while feeling a tug toward the school I had written off. No musical theatre program, no BFA, not anything like I thought I wanted and a hometown school I resisted… but there was something about it that made me feel at ease.
I committed to the University of Virginia in April of 2014. If I had known a year prior I wouldn’t be receiving a specific degree in musical theatre, I would have been wondering where it all went wrong, but heading into the summer before my freshman year I was optimistic. I don’t know why that dream centered on UVA when the school had never really made an impression on me. I’m also not a person who believes “everything happens for a reason” in the way it seems most people mean. I think we derive our own meaning from the events that happen to us, and if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that every environment (school or otherwise) holds opportunities for you to further your skills and passions, and it’s up to you to choose what to do with the space you are offered. Of course, hire the audition coach (me please!), do extensive research, keep your hopes high and your expectations low, try not to make my mistakes… but please know the world is at your fingertips in spite of AND because of your college journey, with all its lows and disappointments. Maybe you won’t have a prophetic fever dream like the one I did about UVA… but I hope that you find the courage to keep your heart, mind (and dream space!) open.