TikToker Axel Webber has a few suggestions about how to deal with rejection. They include wallowing, moving on, making yourself a good meal (of apple sauce), and crying alone.
The viral star kept his millions of followers updated throughout his audition for—and ultimate refusal from—the Juilliard School, one of the country’s top performing-arts colleges, and now they get to see the aftermath. His fans are not taking the denial quietly, though, with many flooding the school’s Instagram posts with thousands of comments, like “LET AXEL INNN” and “Where’s axel’s acceptance mail?”
Rejection sucks. Everyone feels its sting at some point—in their personal life, at work and, yes, in college admissions. Webber’s rejection (and its subsequent backlash) shows how internet popularity doesn’t always translate into real-world success. It also may not need to.
Webber’s rise began when he posted videos about his tiny New York apartment, amassing 33.9 million views. His account now boasts 2.6 million followers and counting, keeping up with his life in the city, including his Juilliard audition.
College-admissions theater is not new to social media. A simple search of “admissions reactions” on YouTube yields many, many videos of hopeful students opening their decisions on camera. Most of these students don’t enjoy the same level of internet fame as Webber, but their experiences on the whole highlight just how arbitrary the college admissions process can seem. According to U.S. News, Juilliard has a 7% admissions rate. Statistically, rejection isn’t exactly a surprise.
But it also doesn’t signal the end of his acting career. It may be just the opposite. Although he may not have gotten into the prestigious performing arts school, Webber has since signed on with modeling agency The Society, and he’s getting messages of support from such celebrities as Charlie Puth. Success, then, may not mean an education or a degree from a fancy school. Instead, it can be a matter of posting the right thing at the right time and having a certain something that keeps people watching and puts content at the top of the For You page.
Elite institutions, meanwhile, have done little to instill trust in the so-called meritocracy over the past few years, with high-profile news stories like accusations of collusion to limit financial aid and the Varsity Blues scandal. Every year, thousands of students are rejected from colleges or denied scholarships with little explanation. The increasingly social nature of those responses, though, may continue to pull universities’ practices into the spotlight and call their legitimacy into question.
There’s an old saying, When one door closes, another opens, yet in the age of social media, there may be a lot of different doors to choose from—especially if you’re fortunate enough to have 2.6 million friends to help you open them.