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How to Handle College Rejections

Mar 26, 2020

Even the most qualified candidates might open their inbox to find an “I regret to inform you…” email. Those emails can be really hard to process. You might be feeling defeated, confused, and even hopeless. This isn’t the end of the world, but it definitely can feel like it in the moment. But, as with any difficult situation, you need to give yourself time and permission to feel whatever emotions you’re feeling, and to process your sadness and the disappointment. Talk to your friends and family about how you’re feeling rather than trying to act like it’s okay. If you like journaling, write about how you’re feeling. Then, dry your tears and start focusing on your next step. Moving forward and focusing on your future is essential. Rather than wallowing or getting stuck in a negative mindset, think about the positive qualities of your other options

Your next steps depend on whether or not you didn’t get into the college or colleges you want, or if you didn’t get into college at all. If you’re reading this and still haven’t heard back from all of your colleges, don’t worry about the last category. As long as you had a balanced college list, it’s highly unlikely that you didn’t get in anywhere. However, if that’s the position you find yourself in, take heart. This isn’t the end of your educational journey!

What to do if you get rejected from your dream school

It’s hard to let go of a dream. You might have wanted to go to that college since the first time you learned what college was! Even if you were accepted to other colleges that you do like, those victories may seem pale in comparison to the defeat you feel right now. However, you should try your best to celebrate your accomplishment of getting into other colleges. Remember that getting accepted anywhere is proof that your work wasn’t wasted. If you’ve been working hard throughout high school, and approached the college apps with the same level of determination and integrity, you likely got into some other great colleges! Try to adopt the mindset that you will thrive wherever you end up, and the college you ultimately choose is likely the best fit for you. Shift your energy from waiting anxiously to excitedly researching the other colleges you were accepted to. No matter where you go to college, your experience will be what you make of it. Identify classes, clubs, professors and other aspects of your college that you are excited about. Think positively and make the most of it. Doing so can help you become more hopeful for the future and, in turn, less disappointed with the present.

With all of this in mind, if you really aren’t ready to let that dream go, you do have one more option. If you have new information, such as a previous grade was incorrect and is now better, or you retook your SAT and improved your score significantly, you can write an appeal letter. Appeal letters are kind of a hail mary in the world of college applications. Sending an appeal letter encourages your admissions officer to reconsider your application in light of this new information. If you have an “it doesn’t hurt to try” mentality, then go ahead and write one! You should put a decent amount of effort into writing this, but don’t expect your rejection to turn into an acceptance. As you wait for a potentially new decision, you should simultaneously be considering your other college options and getting excited for those.

What to do if you’re rejected from all your top tier schools

Many of you ambitious students filled your college list with highly competitive top tier schools. And, honestly, you were probably a very competitive applicant! But at the end of the day, it’s a numbers game. Elite universities like Harvard, U Chicago, Stanford, etc. receive tens of thousands of applications each year. But they have a limited number of dorm rooms, professors, and advisors to accommodate the students they admit. So it’s inevitable that some really strong candidates end up being rejected. It’s also possible that a single strong candidate can be denied admission to all of their reach schools. If that’s the position you find yourself in, you might be feeling pretty discouraged. Remember that this doesn’t mean you’re not smart, talented, or capable! Instead of focusing on what you did wrong or getting angry with that college, look on the bright side:

  • At one of your match or safety schools, you’ll be a big fish in a small pond, instead of a small fish in a big pond. This can save you a lot of anxiety and imposter syndrome throughout your college years and enable you to thrive academically.
  • You can choose to challenge yourself by enrolling in an honor’s program at your college, taking extra classes, and even attempting to graduate early!
  • You should attend a college that wants you. Even if you were a perfect candidate academically, you might have been a poor match culturally. That doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or that the college has an undesirable culture. It simply means that they were able to recognize that you’ll fit in better at a different school and they saved you the time and trouble of realizing that for yourself!

College isn’t just about prestige. Having an Ivy League college on your resume might help you land your first job out of college, but what really matters is how you make the most of the next four years, no matter where you are. Wherever you go to school, you can do things to set yourself apart such as meaningful internships, extracurriculars, or conferences that help add even more impressive material to your resume.

What to do if you don’t get into college

Every individual rejection can be heartbreaking in its own way, but if you don’t get into any of the colleges you applied to, a different type of dread sets in. You might be wondering what to do next, and your friends and family might not have the answers you’re looking for. But don’t worry, there are several things you can do over the next several months or year to make sure you end up in college. There are many benefits to taking time between high school and college, and though this might not be the path you envisioned, try to view the extra time as an opportunity to take advantage of.

  • Apply to a school with rolling admission. These colleges don’t have hard deadlines, so you can still apply to some of them even after you’ve heard back from all of your regular decision schools.
  • Apply for spring enrollment. Most often, freshmen start college in the fall, but several schools offer a later application deadline for enrollment in the spring semester. Research some of those colleges and see if any of them are a good fit for you.
  • Attend community college. If you applied to a four year university, community college probably wasn’t even on your radar. However, attending community college is a great way to continue learning while you wait for the next round of regular decision applications, hopefully get a few more good grades on your transcript, and demonstrate your preparedness and devotion to higher education.
  • Take a gap year. Maybe a mental health break or simply some time in a nonacademic setting will be good for you. Then, you can feel more refreshed, mature, and self aware when you tackle the next round of college applications!
  • Retake your SAT or ACT. If you think your scores were holding you back, hunker down and study for your standardized tests so that you earn the scores you need to all but guarantee college admission.
  • Create a balanced college list. Take some time to reflect on why you didn’t get into college the first time. Maybe your college list was too small, too top heavy (filled with mostly reach schools), or had a lot of schools that prefer in-state applicants. Whatever the issue was, make sure you correct it when you make your next college list. Your college list should include 5-7 reach schools, 5-7 match schools, and 3-5 safety schools.
  • Work with a college consultant to craft a better application. Working with a professional can help you avoid classic mistakes as well as make your application stand out to admissions officers.

Whatever you decide to do, stay positive! Try not to take this as solely a reflection of your intellect or academic potential. Luck is a huge factor in college admissions, and you may have been really unlucky. You shouldn’t give up if your future goals or career plans require a college degree. Try again until you get where you need to be!

Regardless of where you did or didn’t get into college, this isn’t the end of the road. On the contrary, it’s just the beginning of a new, exciting chapter in your educational journey. If you start at a college next year that you didn’t plan on attending, you will still likely have an enriching experience. You’ll meet incredible professors, make lifelong friends, and gain a deeper understanding of the subjects you’re passionate about. However, if you try your best to make the most of your situation and still find yourself unfulfilled, you always have the option to transfer. While you shouldn’t enter a college with the intention of transferring out of it, it might help to keep that in mind as you make your next move. Nothing is permanent and you can command your own future.