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Lessons in rejection
By RICHARD LIM
There’s a sense of dejection when students are not accepted by their dream varsity but it can propel students to define their own strengths and talents.
IT’S that time of year again when university admissions become an insistent theme for prospective public university undergraduates.
In a mixture of great fear and extraordinary hope, the dreams of many students are on the line and thoughts of “Will I? Won’t I”, will be something many undergrads will have to grapple with – at least for a while more.
And while some will inevitably be accepted by their preferred varsity to read their desired course, others will experience contrasting fortunes. It will be a case of “either or” for many, and if getting rejected at one’s preferred university is bad enough, the inability to study one’s preferred course is a double whammy.
Thick envelops normally bring good news – along with brochures and forms – while thin slips indicate otherwise.
The envelope is slowly but surely making way for online application checks but that is the only change and come June, thousands of applicants will be grappling with the age-old problem of rejection.
Rahmah Hussain, the director of the ministry’s Students Admission Division (UPU), says that the root problem is the limited number of places in public universities to cater to everyone!
“Students may apply for as many as eight universities or programmes,” she says. “They have 20 public universities to choose from and they have to strategise their selection.
“Requirements are getting tougher – especially for more established universities – and there is a high cutoff point.”
Their choice, says Rahmah, is understandable as three research universities – Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia – are in the area while the close proximity of Kuala Lumpur is an enticing lure.
However, these universities are gradually reducing their undergraduate intake to cater more to postgraduate studies.
“The basic premise is that there are limited seats and fulfilling the minimum entry requirements does not guarantee one a place,” she adds.
“Selection is done on the basis of meritocracy, 90% academic marks and 10% co-curriculum marks, and the process is automated – there is no bias. The computerised system considers general and special requirements for courses offered by various universities and students are selected.”
Acknowledging that there was bound to be disappointment – especially amongst Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Law applicants – Rahmah advises students to accept the offers given to them as these are based on their choices.
“Of course, dissatisfied applicants can appeal and they will be considered but I hope they understand our position. We are still a developing nation with 20 public universities – unlike some European countries. However, there are 47 private universities and university colleges in Malaysia. Students can also apply to these institutions.
“For students who want to be eligible to appeal, they must first reject the offer given ... please note that choices are limited to two and only a limited number of courses are listed.
Rethinking the unthinkable
Picking up from where Rahmah left off, International Medical University psychologist Alexius Cheang Weng Onn opines that rejection may represent a seismic shift in both expectations and, ultimately, confidence.
The coping mechanisms of each individual differ greatly when “failure” is concerned and while some pick themselves up in no time, others are out for the count.
And often, being rejected by your preferred university is not half as bad as being prevented from pursuing the course of your choice.
“The after effects are there for all to see,” he says. “They come in the form of failures, dropouts, unhappiness and stress.
And Cheang can relate as he was in a second choice world himself – the only difference being it was his own volition. More importantly, he managed to nip the problem in the bud.
A former athlete, Cheang signed up for a degree in Physical Therapy when he was studying in the United States. However, he discovered that it was not his “calling” and switched majors to Psychology.
Armed with renewed motivation, Cheang went on to record a CGPA of 3.96 in his degree programme and 3.9 for his Master’s – also in Psychology.
“Speaking from hindsight, finding the right fit is very important for any student,” he adds. “It is self actualisation and there is no greater reward than fulfilling one’s potential.
“I did very badly in my SPM exam and I was forced to go abroad because there was no way for me to enter any local university. Of course I was disappointed but I knew I could do better and I did so under a different system.”
From his counselling experience, Cheang adds that rejection is hard to deal with as students often feel that they are letting their loved ones down and not just themselves. And this added burden drives one further down the road of despair.
With that, the rate of recovery has a direct correlation with the unconditional love and empathy shown by one’s support group.
This is evident in the life of Warren Buffett – a renowned investor with a net worth of US$47bil (RM150bil), who was rejected in an admissions interview by the Harvard Business School at age 19.
Encumbered by “feelings of dread” and a fear of disappointing his father, Buffett made a swift turnaround when his father responded with “only an unconditional love and belief” in him.
Urging rejected applicants to keep their resolve, Cheang adds that recalibrating one’s perspective is of utmost importance.
“Think of it this way: Education is never a waste,” he says. “Who knows? You may end up liking the course you were offered.
“And if you do not, pick up transferrable skills from the degree programme.
“A student may dislike accounting but he or she may become a detail-oriented person as a result. Develop skills along the way and use that knowledge to find the right fit when you graduate.
“After all, many people change careers three or four times in their life, so in this case, it does not really matter what kind of degree you have.”
Although he agrees wholeheartedly with Cheang now, there was a time when Daud (not his real name) would disagree vehemently.
Accepted by his preferred institution, Daud – who was clueless when it came to course selection – was offered a place to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
He duly accepted and what happened next was quite unexpected. Failing to grasp the subject matter, Daud ended up quitting his course, calling it the “worst one year of his life.”
Despite his best efforts Daud could not relate to the course as it was too theoretical.
“In hindsight, it was my mistake as I thought I could do well as I always fiddled with gadgets when I was younger. I was naïve and instead of practical application, I ended up struggling with diagrams, formulas and circuit boards.
Fortunately, Daud was offered an apprenticeship by an airline company and today, he makes a decent living servicing Fokker 50s and Boeing 737s.
And although one may have to grapple with the unhappiness of rejection or inadequacy, university could be the place where one acquires that light bulb moment.
Jann Wenner is one classic example. Rejected by Harvard in 1964, Wenner went on to the University of California Berkeley, but dropped out three years later to start a rock-music biweekly called Rolling Stone.
Today, his brainchild has won numerous awards, boasts of 12 million readers globally and is regarded as the definitive source for music information and pop-culture trends.
Getting back up
Unlike Daud, Daren Yoong was rejected by his preferred university.
An Accounting and Finance undergraduate at a local private university college, Yoong was hoping to transfer his credits to the London School of Economics and Political Science.
And although things went awry, Yoong was not down for long.
“I guess I did not want it too badly,” he mused.
“Anyway, it solved a potential problem as finance would have been a big concern for my parents if I had studied in Britain.
“Naturally, I did not take it well at first as I felt like a loser. Putting it in a more politically correct way, I knew I would not be getting the best out there.”
Describing the post-rejection hangover as an “edge you can’t scratch”, Yoong says that the nagging thoughts only affected him when he entertained them.
Dispensing the lachrymose reflections, Yoong recalibrated his perspective, questioned his goals and focused on the next best thing – graduating.
He duly delivered by obtaining a second-class upper with a CGPA of 3.3, graduating in the top 10% of his class in 2005.
After a year’s search for the right company to match his dreams of a regional career, Yoong decided to be a financial analyst at a multinational IT consulting corporation.
Responsible for improving year-to -year financials, Yoong performed well and he swiftly moved across the Causeway to play a similar role at consumer goods company Proctor & Gamble.
Although he excelled again, Yoong felt that he had to learn more about the business and engineered a lateral movement from finance to brand management.
However, the only regional vacancy was in Thailand and Yoong decided to take a pay cut in order to acquire invaluable experience.
Today, he is an ASEAN Assistant Brand Manager, working with a multifunctional team to run sale analyses, initiative planning, consumer/shopper understanding and communication strategy for various consumer brands.
“I guess I’m doing okay for someone who was rejected by their preferred university,” he laughs.
“I’m 26, my quality of life is pretty good and money is not a concern. I can’t complain too much, can I?”
A firm believer in lifelong education, Yoong intends to further his academic qualifications by taking up an MBA in the future.
His earlier rejection has not stopped him from dreaming big as he plans to apply to the Harvard Business School or the Chicago Graduate School of Business.
In hindsight, Yoong now takes heart that graduating from a good university or possessing strong qualifications like an MBA are not all that matter, and he advises rejected applicants not to feel disheartened.
“Company interviews show that those with less ideal beginnings have more drive and this is essential in any business and more importantly, life,” he says.