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Why this 18-year-old wanted to share her rejection from her dream school

Nicole Laeno's TikTok video has gone viral with over 47 million views.

April 15, 2024, 4:57 PM

For years, Nicole Laeno knew she wanted to attend the University of California, Los Angeles.

So on March 15, the high school senior from Torrance, California, gathered with her mother, father, and brother to find out whether or not she had been accepted into her dream school. To her disappointment, she was not offered a spot in the university's incoming freshman class.

The 18-year-old, who has been a content creator since middle school, recorded her emotional reaction and shared it on TikTok, where it has quickly gone viral with over 47 million views and over 44,000 comments.

PHOTO: Nicole Laeno has been sharing online since middle school and didn’t want to shy away from sharing the lows in her life, such as her reaction when she learned she wasn’t accepted to her dream university.
Nicole Laeno has been sharing online since middle school and didn’t want to shy away from sharing the lows in her life, such as her reaction when she learned she wasn’t accepted to her dream university.
Courtesy Nicole Laeno

Among the tens of thousands who chimed in was ABC News senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott, who wrote, "I got rejected from my dream school – it was the best thing that ever happened to me. You can't connect the dots going forward but one day, looking back you'll see it led you to where you need to be."

Laeno said even though the outcome wasn't what she had wanted, she didn't shy away from sharing her tears and sad news with her millions of social media followers online.

"I've always wanted to share just the real stuff about growing up and I already knew when college decisions came around, I just wanted to record all of it, my reactions, everything that went down, and just the whole process in general," Laeno told "Good Morning America."

For Laeno, the moment was a culmination of hard work and effort that she devoted herself to wholeheartedly.

"I went on [the UCLA] campus. I went to their dance clinics. I bought all the merch that I could and just represented and felt proud and literally had that as my dream school," she said.

PHOTO: Despite being rejected from multiple schools, including her dream school – University of California, Los Angeles – Nicole Laeno is excited about heading off to college in the fall.
Despite being rejected from multiple schools, including her dream school – University of California, Los Angeles – Nicole Laeno is excited about heading off to college in the fall.
Courtesy Nicole Laeno

"So when I got my rejection letter from my dream school, it was just kind of like a knife to the heart," Laeno continued. "You feel like you've been working your whole life for this moment and then when it's kind of shut down, you feel that disappointment and you're just definitely let down."

Linda Laeno, who described her daughter as her "best friend," told "GMA" it was also difficult for her to see Nicole go through such a rollercoaster journey of anticipation and rejection.

"My heart broke for her," the mom of two said. "This poor girl fantasized about this, like her whole life. … I was beside myself."

But Nicole Laeno knew she'd get through the tough decision together with her family by her side.

"I knew that this process was really just overwhelming and stressful," she said. "I always want my support system and those three [my mother, father and brother] are. So especially during my UCLA one, I was like, 'Yeah, I need you all there.'"

She also said it helped that others online shared their own rejection experiences and lived to tell the tale.

"It makes me really reassured that I will be OK. And I always knew that, but just hearing those words from people that already went through it, I was like, 'OK, that's good. It's gonna be good,'" Laeno said.

Now that it's been a month since her dream school rejection, Laeno said she has probably "cried it all out" and has decided to attend another southern California school – San Diego State University, where she plans on majoring in communications.

PHOTO: Despite being rejected from multiple schools, including her dream school – University of California, Los Angeles – Nicole Laeno is excited about heading off to college in the fall.
Despite being rejected from multiple schools, including her dream school – University of California, Los Angeles – Nicole Laeno is excited about heading off to college in the fall.
Courtesy Nicole Laeno.

"I committed to SDSU – San Diego State University," Laeno said. "I am so beyond excited. I've finally come to a place where I can just move on from the rejection and look forward to other things and a new chapter in my life. I'm already thinking of the clubs or sorority that I want to join."

Laeno said for other high schoolers feeling nervous or scared about their future, there's light on the other side of rejection.

"To any other seniors who are going through this process and maybe are still feeling the disappointment and loss, like, 100% go through all the motions, cry it all out if you need to but you will come to a place where you know that rejection is redirection and you will end up where you're supposed to," Laeno said.

"You'll be able to get to a place where you're happy and excited for a different thing," she added.

And for other parents with college-bound children, Linda Laeno said, "My advice would just be, be there for [your children], be strong for them, and reassure them that you love them and that they're no less than what their decision is."