How to Help Students Move on after College Rejection
Written by Allison Singh
They say the first heartbreak is the hardest to get over. For many students, this comes in the form of a rejection letter from their dream college. Tuition deposits were due May 1, yet some students are still pining over their lost love. Parents try to lift their spirits by proudly wearing college sweatshirts and slapping stickers on the car, all to no avail. As a former rejected student myself, I offer my advice to help these jilted and jaded students move on and get excited about college again.
First, don’t take rejection personally. Many students are stuck in rewind trying to figure out what they did wrong. The answer is nothing (assuming they gave it their all in high school). The college admissions process is not a meritocracy. Colleges have priorities and agendas they must serve before an application is even read – spots reserved for athletes, wealthy donors, legacies, and underserved geographic/racial/ethnic groups. The factors determining whether students receive a thick or thin envelope are often beyond their control, and bear no connection to their qualifications. Rejection will not hold a student back, but entering college full of self-doubt and bitterness will.
Second, it doesn’t matter as much as they might think. After graduating from “elite” undergraduate and law schools, and spending years in corporate America, I’ve learned that the name on a diploma is not a strong indicator of future success. Recent studies by The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and others undermine the presumed correlation between school status and job placement, salary level and career advancement. Today’s students will be entering a workforce in which the answer to the question “What can you do?” carries more weight than “Where did you go?” Graduating from an “elite” college doesn’t guarantee a student can do anything. College major, grades, internships, work ethic and passion – those are the factors most relevant to career success. Unlike the college admissions process, those are within a student’s control.
Third, welcome to the real world. High school is a very small world, and the sausage grinder of the college admissions process leaves students with a very narrow perspective. What happens next is more important than anything that happened in high school. There is a lot of important work to be done in college – big questions that need answers, such as:
· What are your life goals?
· How will college help you accomplish them?
· What skills do you need?
We live in a complex world; college is the perfect time for students to make sense of it, and find their place in it. This can be done anywhere, as long as they arrive on campus with an open, inquiring mind.
Fourth, believe in yourself, not the admissions committee. Students often hand over their self-esteem to anonymous admissions officers – a cost too high for any college. We all face rejection at some point. College rejection presents the opportunity for students to learn valuable coping skills early on, and define success on their own terms. Doing so will serve them better than a degree from any school.
Finally, a word of advice to parents and counselors before they begin the conversation: Do not minimize the impact of rejection. These wounds cut deep at a very vulnerable time in a teenager’s life. After all, many of these students spent four years doing what they thought they were “supposed” to do to get into their dream school. In many ways, we set them up for this, and owe them an honest explanation and useful advice when it doesn’t work out.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.