After rejections from her top-choice schools, one student found happiness further down her college list

In high school, I was one of those overachievers whose idea of "self care" was eating a Cadbury Creme Egg at 3 a.m. when I had finished cramming in hundreds of pages of AP US History. My dad kept me company as I burned that midnight oil, but he would usually fall asleep on the couch beside me before I finished my work. I rarely got more than five hours of sleep. I was a straight-A student, and would end up valedictorian, though I didn't know that until after I applied to colleges.

I was also an officer in the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society, a Hebrew school teacher on Sundays and Wednesdays, a member of two choirs, the manager of the track team, and always involved with the school plays (three per year), which meant four hours a night of rehearsal before I could even begin my homework. I'd been shooting for the moon like this since I began school, running on a motor of anxiety and the intense desire to leave my suburban town for grandiose dreams. I was a lonely kid—I had friends, but rarely romance, even though I kept lists of crushes in my diary from age five onward. My identity was "the smart one." And when that becomes your identity, academic failure doesn't seem like an option.

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