The Age of College Rejections
Few people know Rixford K Snyder today. He is a Californian man of longevity. His compliments go much more beyond. He went to Stanford in 1926, and acquired an AB in 1930, an AM in 1934, and a PhD in 1940 — all at the big farm. After courageously fighting the Japanese in early 1940s, he rejoined Stanford and had since taught history there. Beside a reading packet for college kids on western history, the most notable of Snyder's tenure was some 33,000 freshmen in 20 the classes he admitted when he was the director, then dean, of admissions.
But none of you should have known any of these. Neither do I before I googled him today. What prompted me to find about him is a half-a-century old essay crafted by one of the other 70,000 applicants that Snyder rejected during his 20-year reign.
One April afternoon in 1952, Joan Didion went to her room, locked the door, and cried to the letter from Snyder that read “The Committee on Admissions asks me to inform you that it is unable to take favorable action upon your application for admission to Stanford University.” That while, Joan grabbed a bottle of pills, counted them, and pictured herself on a hospital ER bed with Snyder hovering outside trying to find peace.
Thank God. Didion merely counted the pills but didn't swallow — she was bothered by how to take the news to Snyder. We are now happy that we’ve had another fantastic writer for more than half a century. Snyder must be too — he's probably enjoying an unexpected search popularity 12 years beyond his heavenly-being.
What would he say on that none of his 33,000 favorite kids contributed to such a lively reminiscence of him, but this girl among the 70,000 of his unfavorite ones did?
We wouldn't know.
Perhaps there is no better time than now to reread this essay from Didion in 1968. We see, as we read it, that we have been taken far into the age of college rejections as we have crammed ourselves to jostle each other every way we can. Covid-19, while it calamitously put every other aspect of life on halt for some time, is still hurling the college application far more rejective than ever.
Harvard has rejected 59266 applicants during this admission cycle, 20998 more than pre-pandemic — none the additional applications the college received has been admitted. For Yale, the total number may look slightly healthier, 14865 more rejections than pre-pandemic. But it is as ugly as at Harvard when we count it incrementally. Indeed, all of the extra labor that kids put up for the top 20 colleges since two falls ago is worth no more than a sorry.
Things will not get better. Even if kids from our neighbors become lazier, it can only decelerate the application hikes. Reason? Hasn't WFH thrust every moms and dads buggier since this pandemic?
It is better that we be readier than ever before another rejection season kicks in. And the best way is to read from Didion:
“The next year a friend at Stanford asked me to write him a paper on Conrad's Nostromo, and I did, and he got an A on it. I got a B- on the same paper at Berkeley, and the specter of Rixford K. Snyder was exorcised.”
I want to wish Professor Snyder and every crafters of those letters their joy and peace, certainly not for that they missed and will miss the best lucks at some point in their profession.