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Niche Resources

Rejected From Your First-Choice College? Here Are 7 Tips to Move Forward

Every December, many high school seniors function in a vacuum of anxiety. Their most-visited web-pages become university admissions sites, where they spend hours poring over the requirements they hope they’ve met. They check their emails too frequently and open any messages sent from colleges with embarrassing speed. And they search in vain for concrete decision release dates, only ever finding vague answers: By mid- to late December.

After a week or two of this, clarity finally comes. An email notifies the student of the time and date on which they can view their results. The waiting days begin to blur together.

Colleges tend to release their first wave of admissions decisions—Early Action, Early Decision—during this part of the year. When the big day arrives, students around the world sit in front of their computer screens with bated breath. For some, it is one of the happiest days of their adolescent lives. For others, there is only disappointment.

If you fall into the latter camp, this post is for you. It’s hard not to feel cheated. After all of the buildup, all of the anxiety, it’s hard not to feel sad and angry.

But life goes on—and so does the college admissions process. So before you a. start scrambling to meet January Regular Decision deadlines or b. accept total defeat and completely give up, there are some critical next steps you should take. We’ve outlined them for you below:

Allow yourself to hurt.

There may be tears, and that’s okay. Let yourself be mad, frustrated, unhappy. You are human, and you are allowed to feel things, so feel them deeply. Scream into a pillow, scream in your backyard, sob as hard as you want. College applications are a thing into which you pour a lot of time and energy, and it’s only natural that you’ll be upset if you don’t receive the desired result of your work. But after months of building pent-up stress, this is an opportunity for you to release all of that.

Stay away from online forums and social media.

In the days following decision release, there will inevitably be countless social media posts and Internet message boards on which applicants post their “stats”—laundry lists of activities and test scores, accompanied by results. It’s easy to look at these posts and compare yourself to their authors. But do your best to stay away from them, because at the end of the day, you’ll never know exactly why someone else with a lower GPA or less activities got in, or why someone with ‘better’ stats didn’t. You can only be yourself; analyzing the lives of others is never productive.

Remind yourself that this rejection is not a reflection of your character.

Rejection oftentimes feels personal, as if an admissions officer simply doesn’t like you. And how could it not be, when all the components of a college application—academic interests, extracurricular activities, personality in your essays—are the same components that make up you?

But that’s exactly it—remember who you are. After a day or two of mourning, remember that all of those things—activities, your personality—are things that no one can take away  from you. Just because you were rejected doesn’t mean that those things are inherently bad; it just means that they may not have been a right fit for the school. And just because they were not a right fit for the school doesn’t mean that you are not a good fit for hundreds of other schools.

Reevaluate your goals and consider your options.

Where do you want to go from here? If you’re dead-set on your first choice, you may think about taking a gap year of travel or employment before reapplying; remember also that transferring after one or two years of study at another institution is always an option.

If you’d like to expand your options a bit, begin looking at other schools to apply to. While this isn’t to ‘diss’ your Early Decision school, it’s possible that you may have been looking at it through rose-colored glasses. Now is a great time to reconsider your original wants and ask yourself some essential questions about college: Do you still want to study the thing that you originally chose as your major? Do you still want to study in the same city or town that you originally wanted? What did you like about your Early Decision/Action choice, and what did you dislike? These are questions that will take you right into our next step.

Research other schools.

Take your answers from Step Four and use them to find new options. In researching other colleges, it’s important to be realistic. If, for example, you were rejected from an extremely selective school, it may be wise to look at slightly less selective schools. You can use Niche’s Best Colleges to customize a list of schools based on factors like this, in addition to virtually whatever else you want. Our tools allow you to sort schools by major, cost, and student body size, just to name a few. And after you’ve compiled a list, take a look at Niche reviews to get a better idea of student life.

Apply to other schools.

Keeping those early to mid-January deadlines in mind, work on your applications. Make sure to have a trusted adult—parent, school counselor, favorite teacher—offer suggestions for improvement, as you want your next round of applications to be as successful as possible.


Congratulations—you’ve done it! You’ve gotten through one of the most difficult times of your high school career. Take some time to de-stress, hang out with your friends, and treat yourself to something nice. You deserve it.

Author: Julianna Chen

Julianna Chen is currently in her first year at Emory University, where she studies creative writing and film. She is the managing editor of Lithium Magazine and a contributing writer for When not writing, she is watching a movie or eating a stroopwafel, sometimes both at the same time.