How To Deal with College Admission Envy

Tips on dealing with college admissions envy
April 26, 2024
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

College applications are in. The work is done. Now comes the worst part. It’s time for the waiting game.

The only thing worse than waiting anxiously is seeing other people finish waiting before you do. Seeing your peers get the results of their applications can cause real envy, and this can be a lonely feeling. It is a common occurrence that can happen countless times to the same person. College admission envy is real, and many students that go through this phase need support. 

Learning about the college envy phenomenon is a great step towards finding peace with it. Your support is all around you and even inside you already, and unlocking it will be the key to transforming a potentially traumatizing experience into an opportunity for growth. If you are a perfect person who has never felt envy in your life, feel free to click away from this article. But if you are looking for a like-minded person who has experienced these difficult feelings with the hopes of learning something, let us dive in.

What is College Admission Envy?

College admission envy is simple: it is jealousy. It is looking at your neighbor and coveting their blessings. It is believing the idea that the grass is greener on the other side. If you happen to be waiting for the results of your college applications and see your colleagues start to get theirs before you do, it would be natural for you to wonder where yours are and why you haven’t received them yet.

A key point to remember is that college admission envy is normal. It does not make you evil or a monster. Envy is part of being human, and like other human characteristics, it can either fester if excessively indulged in, or it can be taken as an opportunity for growth. Your actions or inactions towards college envy dictate its impact on your life.

When you get jealous, you will also have questions. “Why do I not have what they have?” and “Why did they get it before I did?” can lead to more difficult questions like “Did I not receive my results first because I’m not good enough?” These doubts can creep up from a place of insecurity. Fear of failure and fear of the unknown with what comes next can become big obstacles that stem from this insecurity.

In this space of insecurity, however, there is also an opportunity for growth. Somewhere in this barren space of fear and doubt, there is a seed you can grow: it is the desire to seek understanding. This desire is more than simply understanding why you got the results that you did. It is also more than simply accepting these results. 

The desire to seek understanding can be a root of confidence that you can latch onto during trying times because it is an understanding of yourself and of the world around you during these kinds of situations. It is understanding how and why you have a certain reaction to things, and being able to catch yourself during these moments so that you might have a chance at choosing to react a different way. Both instances can exist in your mind as you feel college envy settle inside you.

College admission envy will likely last until you have received your feedback. It is possible to make peace with college envy while waiting for your results, and it is also possible to be consumed by it for the duration of your waiting period. In both cases, one thing is certain: college envy will pass because you will eventually get your results, no matter what they may be.

College Envy is a Distraction

This idea that “college envy is a distraction” seems like a painfully obvious statement, but it can be hard to digest once college admission envy takes over. College admission envy occurs because you are waiting for your application results while some other people are not. The envy will shift your attention from your schooling and your goals into one moment of uncertainty. However, for both parties, the rest of the school year is still going on.

All applicants must finish their year strong. This could be the difference between earning scholarships or not, or getting accepted into the college or having your admission revoked. Students who are serious about their college applications will be so focused on ending their year with good grades that they won’t have time to think about how their peers are doing. This doesn’t mean that these students are heartless robots who don’t feel emotion; instead, it is because these students live in the present moment and they are able to acknowledge their emotions and channel them into their work. Think of it this way: if all you wanted was getting admitted, then you might not be focused on the right things in your college journey. There is way more to any college you get into - after all, the experience comes down to what you make of it.

Will college envy make it difficult for you to continue your path to achieving your goals? Only if you let it. Some days, you may forget that you have college envy. Other days, it will weigh on your mind so much that your footsteps get heavier. The distraction of college admission envy can feel annoying, frustrating, and unfair. Knowing this, you can let it stay that way, or take this as an opportunity to conquer the envy. This accomplishment won’t show up on your grades, but it might be something you are most proud of yourself for achieving. At the least, you can set your present self free to continue the work you have in front of you.

Not All College Paths are the Same

It is important to remember why you wanted to go to this college in the first place. Maybe you felt that this school would be the best place for you to jumpstart a career in ophthalmology. Maybe you admired a political science professor in this school and wanted to take their classes so that you could become an expert on international affairs. Whatever your goal is, remember that it is much bigger than the college you are applying for. 

The recent 2022 NBA All-Star game featured an undrafted player, the first undrafted player to make the All-Star team since the 2000s. And not too long ago, the US President was a former TV celebrity. No matter how unorthodox your journey is into your career path, you and your body of work are bigger deciding factors in how your life plays out, rather than what college you end up attending.

There are different ways to define your success in life. College is definitely an important part of that journey for many walks of life, but depending on what you want to do, it might not be the only way to get there. Community colleges might have just the program you are looking for. Online schooling has never been more popular due to the adjustments that the entire world has had to make due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Be Happy for Your Friends, But Focus on Your Future

Seeing your peers getting the results of their college admissions before you do can easily evoke jealousy. The only thing worse than feeling envy when your friends are getting accepted and you are not is feeling guilty about it. This guilt comes from the shame you feel because you should be happy for your friends, and instead something else has taken over. This guilt is one of the more dangerous symptoms of college admission envy, as it can be a driving catalyst for more extreme reactions. It can also lead to self-sabotaging, which can be distracting or even potentially harmful.

It can be hard to be happy for your friends when you are also feeling envious of them. This is natural because circumstances have unfortunately attached specific emotional reactions in your brain to them and what they represent. Thinking of your friends can be similar to looking at a wound and continuing to scratch it. It is not their fault, nor is it your own.

The best way to keep a healthy view of your friends is to avert your attention from them to something else. Focusing on the school work you have yet to complete or finding a new hobby are ways to distance yourself from the negative feelings you may currently have towards your peers. Doing other things will allow you to not only clear your mind, but also put yourself in a position to re-energize for things that matter in your life. Rerouting your focus also gives you the opportunity to find inspiration again. The fresh perspective you get from taking a step back can be what pulls you back in, engrossing you in your passions even more. In time, you will find yourself more secure and ready to greet your friends as you would have before you experienced college envy.

Our relationships are essential pieces of our lives, and if you are experiencing college envy with a friend, it might be best to talk it out together.

Use College Envy to Stay Motivated

It is difficult to put a stop to college admission envy, and it can be even more difficult for those who do not recognize that they are being envious. Still, you have already made an important first step by looking for answers – you are self-aware enough to admit to yourself that you may be feeling envious. Congratulations! Not everyone in life can take this step towards better understanding. 

What you are doing now is a testament to the power you can still take ownership of. College envy is fleeting, so know that what you have learned about yourself by taking the time to read this article can stay with you for the rest of your life if you choose to let it.

Imagine yourself as the planet Earth. Everything looks like it is working as intended, but in one spot, you notice a dark cloud. This dark cloud represents your college admission envy. You see this dark cloud, and even though it doesn’t yet cover the entire planet, it compels you to focus on it because it is different from the rest of the planet. That dark cloud has the possibility of growing and hovering over many countries and cities, which represent your values and the daily facets of your life. It can be disruptive and cause your citizens to panic, lowering your self-esteem and influencing other things. 

Now look at the entire planet again – it is still there, and it is still much bigger than this one dark cloud. Just the same, you are much bigger than the emotions and events in your life.

Is there anything you can do about your dark cloud? Sure! That’s the fun part – put on your engineering hat and see if you can harness its storm to create energy for other things. Channeling your envy into a form of physical release via physical exercise is a common and great way to make use of your energy. 

In addition, it also serves a double purpose as you end up making good use of your time, in comparison to the alternative of letting that energy rumble inside you. The key is to engage in activities that will help you take the focus off your situation and put it into something else that is positive.

Final Thoughts

It is important to know that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. College admission envy is a common phenomenon that needs to be addressed, not something to be embarrassed about. This experience doesn’t necessarily get easier every time it happens, but experiencing college envy enough times that you start recognizing it shows that you are making one significant step already: you are seeking understanding. College envy is real, but it is too small of an instance in your life to define who you are in your entirety. 

By the same token, no one is defined by the college they went to. Can you name one person whose life is defined by which college they attended? If so, can you name other people whose lives are defined by anything else other than college? One of these questions is easier than the other, and we don’t need to count to know the answer. 

College is important, but it is how we make the most of our time in whichever college we go to that creates an impact in our lives and those around us. Whatever your ultimate goals are, focus on how you achieve them.You will be able to get past this college admission envy and look back at it with fondness and laughter. Whichever college or training program accepts you will be able to enjoy how lucky they are to have you.

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