As a senior in high school, I had my heart broken by Duke, a college I’d fallen in love with simply because it was a popular choice at my large, competitive, public high school outside of Washington, D.C. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get in and tried to create a perfect application for them, focusing on their needs, not mine. When they rejected me, I saw myself as a complete failure.
It didn’t help that the day after we got the news from colleges, I walked through a hallway at school only to hear someone say, “Can you believe Katie Malachuk didn’t get into Duke?”
Ouch. Instead, I headed off to Northwestern, a great school but one I only applied to because a lot of other kinds in my honors English class were doing so as well. There I became incredibly depressed for a lot of reasons, none of which had to do with Northwestern because it’s a wonderful place. But one of my biggest issues was this idea of having failed at college admissions, which stuck inside the perfectionist, young adult me.
DROPPING OUT AND DOING SOME MASSIVE SOUL-SEARCHING.
I ended up dropping out of college, taking time off, and doing some massive soul-searching. I wasn’t sure if I’d return to Northwestern, which I knew would be different with a different frame of mind, or if I should transfer. I decided to explore my options and fill out a couple of transfer applications. It was a completely different experience from my first time applying to college. I was really open and honest in my essays and applications, and the entire experience helped me to understand what I’d been through and how I’d grown. I ended up transferring to Harvard, which was a major victory, not because I got into Harvard but because I had come to know and accept myself in an unprecedented way.
Of course, I didn’t get the self-acceptance lesson in one take. So I had a lot of twists and turns throughout my twenties as I tried to find my place in the world. Indeed, my graduate school experiences mirrored the undergraduate in many ways. I applied to law school as I was finishing up my two-year teaching commitment to Teach for America. I had no interest in being a lawyer. I was applying out of fear, scared to be in the world without the safety of an affiliation. I was tight and stiff in my applications and got rejected from my top schools. Again, Georgetown was a great school—I just had no interest in being there. Having been through this experience at Northwestern, I recognized the sadness and detachment, and I left after one semester.
WHY I APPLIED TO BUSINESS SCHOOL.
Again, I entered soul-searching mode, and that’s when I returned to Teach for America in the role of director of admissions. I applied to business schools because I Ioved managing my team and was interested in studying nonprofit management. But a part of me still felt like a failure from the law school episode, as if I needed a graduate degree of some kind.
I wasn’t dead set on going to business school. I approached the process in an exploratory way. What would I gain from this? Why should I be making this move? As with my transfer applications, the process was about me, not the schools. I only applied to three schools: Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, and I was accepted at all three. Stanford felt like home immediately, and I loved my time there.
When I was applying to business school, I didn’t know anyone else applying to business school (I now realize this was a blessing). My friends from undergrad weren’t into that kind of thing. Back then, not as many TFA folks were applying to B-schools.
The finance guy from TFA had gone to Stanford, but that was it. I made the decision to apply at the end of summer and started studying for the GMAT right away. I took a course, having always struggled with the math on those tests. I was stressed because I would only have time to take the test once before the final deadline, and I wanted to make the first deadline (through this was mistaken pressure, as we’ll discuss later).