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Rejected by Your Dream College? Here’s How to Cope

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

In years past, springtime was a familiar scene throughout the country: high school seniors anxiously checking to their household mailboxes after school each day — praying, begging, hoping to find some good news regarding college admission.

Admission letters delivered via snail mail meant the daily anticipation all led up to either a thick or thin envelope: paltry with rejection or bursting with admissions paperwork. The good or bad news was physically opened, processed, and then shared with immediate family. Celebrations or consolations soon followed.

However, today, teens, their friends, and their parents are constantly connected via email, group texts, and social media. The once-a-day checking of the mailbox has turned into five, 10, or 15 instances of refreshing when it’s admissions season. While the anticipation of finding out yes or no is still the same, the rejection is perhaps now harder to handle thanks to an expectation of a somewhat public announcement of the results.

While disappointment of any kind is never easy, getting rejected from your top, or one of your top, college choices can be particularly sharp. But there are ways handle it, and move forward, say experts in the field.

First thing’s first: Grieve. Jennifer Ann Aquino, Author of The International Family Guide to U.S. University Admissions says, “It’s good to grieve and to show emotion. I encourage my students to do so. Don’t hide it or try to suppress it.” She adds that expressing your feelings in a preferred way (journaling, talking, enjoying a hobby, exercising, etc.) and surrounding yourself with supportive people is ideal in the time immediately following bad news.

 “It’s good to grieve and to show emotion. I encourage my students to do so. Don’t hide it or try to suppress it.”

Next, process the information as rationally as possible, reconsidering the unique admissions criteria for each school from all angles, and focusing on things you can control versus things you can’t.

While it may be difficult to speak to admissions representatives about your individual application and their decisions, “Some schools might share the GPA and testing averages for their newly admitted students.” says Christina DeCesare, Associate Director of College Counseling at Princeton Day School in Princeton, NJ. “If a student is well below those averages, that might help provide some context as to why they were not offered admission.” With this, however, it’s imperative to remember that those data points are only small pieces of the application review process.

In fact, you may have been ruled out for reasons that have nothing to do with grades or test scores. Perhaps the school had already selected what they deemed as enough students from your high school, or your state. Or maybe they needed more students who play instruments or speak foreign languages and passed over your application for theirs. Just because you didn’t quite fill the holes the school had open doesn’t mean you weren’t a worthy applicant.

DeCesare also recommends understanding that while students are applying more and more to college, schools are not increasing their class sizes at the same rate, or at all. In fact, roughly 20.4 million students attended American colleges and universities last year, which is an increase of about 5.1 million since the fall of 2000.

In other words, try to not be too hard on yourself. “As both a former college admissions officer and now a college counselor,” DeCesare says, “I understand firsthand how disappointing it can be for students to get denied from a school. Students should take some time to process that news, but remember that ultimately, it’s often not anything they did wrong or that they were lacking in their application(s),” she stresses.

Finally, get back in the game. Aquino advises, “Give yourself a couple of days, and then try your best to refocus on who has accepted you, why you’re excited about these schools, and why you applied to them in the first place. Focusing your energy on those that are excited about you and want you on their campus and in their communities is an excellent way to reenergize during the college search.”

It’s also imperative to remember that a rejection letter is not necessarily the end. Aside from embracing other acceptances, if you truly had your heart set on a school, it can be worthwhile to look into transfer opportunities for the following semesters after accumulating some credits at a community college, or finding similar schools to apply to that you may have missed during the original search.

Ultimately, deciding what school you’ll call home for the next four years can feel like an overwhelming decision — and likely the most “adult” one you’ve had to make thus far – but believing that you will ultimately end up at the school you are meant to attend can make all the difference, too.

“Please try to remember that a student’s success in college (and in life beyond college) is largely what he or she makes of it,” DeCesare says. “Several large-scale studies, and my colleagues and my own observations through our work, speak to how a student’s effort, creativity, talent, self-motivation, and ability to take advantage of opportunities matter far more than the name on their college diploma.”

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Author: Erin Nicole Celletti

Erin Celletti is a freelance journalist and the Director of Communications at Integration Charter Schools. With seven years of classroom teaching and leadership experience, Erin has a BA in Journalism from Quinnipiac University, as well as a M.S.Ed. in Childhood and Special Education from St. John's University, and a M.S.Ed. in School and Building Leadership from Wagner College. Erin lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband, and baby girl on the way. Her work has also appeared in BRIDES, Teen Vogue, Allure, and TODAY Parents.