Lucky to Have Been an Unlucky High School Senior

What getting deferred meant to me

Duke Unfiltered | Brett Finkelstein | December 31, 2015

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Silence. I could barely hear the sound of my own breath. I couldn’t hear my mom either, but I knew she was standing there, right over my shoulder. I wasn’t looking at her, and she wasn’t looking at me. We were just staring, forward, at the computer screen and the clock.

You can read it however you want. “Maybe”, “almost”, “not quite”. How about “try again next time”? That’s what it meant for me, opening up the “deferred” response from my early decision application to Duke University. It was December 12th, 2012, and my application was deferred to regular decision. So what was it that I saw when I read the admissions decision? “It’s not a no”, and that means I wasn’t done yet.

I spent my time Googling statistics about Duke Deferrals, even finding a blog called the “Duke Deferred Club” that I spent more time reading than I even want to admit. It connected me with a network of students just like me, a group I have now affectionately termed the “unlucky lucky ones”. We weren’t denied, which made us lucky, but we also weren’t yet accepted, unlucky. There was a good amount of us deferree’s given the sheer number of Duke applicants that read the “deferred” response during the early decision process. At first, I couldn’t decide how I should feel about it. Comforted, about how many others found themselves in my position? Stressed, as my parents discussed with me the process of continuing to apply to other schools even though I had my heart set on Duke? Competitive, looking at the numbers and wanting to make myself more than just another member of the deferred club?

Then, over time, I stopped worrying and wondering and started acting. Once I did, my response of “deferred” stopped meaning “almost” and instead began to mean “keep going”. In the race to the finish line that senior year comes to be for most high school seniors, my race had just begun. That crushed girl sitting there and reading the dreaded word “deferred” on December 12th  was only chapter 1 of the story that would take me to Duke University campus as a freshman in the fall of 2013. It’s no cinderella story, that’s for sure.

At the beginning of this story, I had felt like just another statistic. Out of 2,524 early decision applicants for the class of 2017, 757 were accepted. They got the green light. I was one of the 607 other early decision applicants who received the yellow light on their admission status. But on March 27th, I was one of the 3,062 accepted, out of the 29,263 total applicants. On March 27th, 32 out of the 607 deferred applicants were accepted. As as writer now for The Rival from Duke University, it’s no secret that I was one of the 32.

The numbers are outstanding, and I don’t think they will ever cease to surprise me no matter how many times I read them over. But that’s not what I care about here. That’s just setting the scene for what was to come in the fall of 2013, after those months of waiting and working, when my dream of Duke became a reality.

My parents and I tried not to take it too seriously. It followed a perspective we all worked hard to maintain during the race to freshman fall following the end of my high school experience. I cannot stress enough now how important that attitude was through the overwhelming stress of admissions. I really do credit that- and my parents for always reminding me of it- for getting me onto the campus of my dreams that fall. We would be walking around campus after move in, and my dad would just stop and look at me and comment, with a completely straight face, on the fact that most of these students were probably much smarter than me. It wasn’t that he didn’t think I was smart, but rather the opposite. “And you snuck your way in here with them,” he’d continue, and laugh. “On graduation day in 2017, you’ll be holding a Duke degree, whether you were valedictorian and got in early decision or were the last one let in off the waitlist”. It really was something to think about, and something my family and I came to have a lot of fun making jokes about. “That girl”, he’d point out and we would all look over, “she’s probably going to cure cancer”. “That guy, he’ll make more money in his first five years out of college than I will my whole life,” I’d join in. “And him, oh he’s already had his research published.”

And for me? Well I’m here with them. It’s a perspective I’ve tried to hold every day moving forward, but I can’t pretend that it started that afternoon on December 12th. It started later, when I chose to stop reading “deferred” as a soon to be rejection and instead looked at it as an opportunity to truly show my worth. It’s like the deferred response was a yellow light in front of me, and I took advantage to go faster rather than slow down and give up.

Now I don’t mean to disregard the fact that this whole “seeing the bright side of things” is much easier said than done. When I received that notification on December 12th, I was devastated. Every year the day early decision responses come out and my Facebook feed is filled with “congrats”, I feel pure jealousy for all those students who chose to apply ED and got the green light right away. Honestly, I’m jealous of anyone who can think back on the admission process and not respond without rolling their eyes. I still to this day have my high school lanyard on my car keys, refusing to change to a college one after I got in and had made my decision, as was an unspoken tradition at my high school. It was a sign of seniority and moving on to the next step, as slowly more and more seniors started carrying around that little bit of school pride in their pockets. I was too jealous of all of those who changed their car keys after early decision responses, and never fully let up on that. But, I can also remember the fact that when regular decision rolled around, that yellow light turned green for me. And that change I really do credit to the way I chose to say my “not yet” to motivate me to do something about it and not just wait idly by.

It’s all about perspective, and the small fact that we really are able to choose the way we see the world around us. Sometimes it may seem that there is really no choice at all. It’ll feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It’ll feel hopeless. But, maybe, all you have to do is change your position, stand up strong, speed up at the sight of that yellow light and never slow down. Who knows where you’ll end up, looking around at everyone else accounted for in that class of 2017 profile, acceptance to this university was just the start.

Turn the page to chapter 2.