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Rejected? Deferred? Here’s How to Cope

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

You toured the school and fell in love with its campus. You scoured the website and fell in love with the programs. You poured your heart out in the supplemental essay and even nailed the interview! Your friends and teachers think it’s a match made in heaven.

And then on that fateful day in mid-December, you open your letter and see the words, “We regret to inform you…”

The world starts spinning as the background fades with your parents trying their best to comfort you. Doubts race through your head and as you excuse yourself to your room, a silent stream of tears slide down your face.

What on Earth just happened?

Don’t worry, I’ve been there. It’s a familiar process that millions of students around the world go through each year. Here are a few pieces of advice I wish someone said to me when I was heartbroken after receiving my deferral letter last winter. 


Delete social media.

I remember swiping through strings of congratulatory Instagram story posts, my heart sinking with each new cheerful post. It seemed like everyone had gotten in. Oftentimes, knowing other people got in hurts so much more than getting deferred yourself.

Take all the time you need for self-despair, but make sure your despair isn’t based on negative comparisons with others.

I remember thinking that if I was the only applicant to Yale from my school, I’d be perfectly fine with rejection but it just so happened that Yale had accepted two of the six early applicants that year. Scrolling through the endless congratulatory posts, and stalking these acceptees on vsco certainly is a detrimental pit of self-despair.

Take all the time you need for self-despair, but make sure your despair isn’t based on negative comparisons with others. I remember deleting Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for the entire month of December until all my early applications were submitted. As cheesy as it sounds, I was freed from the ‘chains of social media’ and felt so much better.

Sometimes, ignoring things really is bliss. 

Don’t get caught up in prestige.

I know it might be easy to associate prestigious universities with automatic career success. To a certain extent, some of these schools might have extensive opportunities that other schools may not have. But it’s really not about the name of the school you go to, it’s about what you do with the opportunities you are given.

A student from an Ivy League school who coasts through will certainly not be as successful as a state school alumni who has gone above and beyond, making the most of their opportunities. Prestige, the name of the school or its ranking will never guarantee a job, success or happiness. 

Take a weekend for your mental health, then refocus.

Mourn. Cry. Journal. Vent. Scream. Express your emotions.

Don’t worry about college applications or the Common App or teacher recommendations or first semester grades. Just take some time to reconnect with your family, mentors and supportive friends, especially friends who are in different grade levels.

Mourn. Cry. Journal. Vent. Scream.
Express your emotions.

Take some time to reconnect with yourself. Just try to find purpose and value in how far you’ve come as opposed to external validation. (Because, hint: Chasing external accomplishments for fulfillment is a never-ending cycle). 


Deferred? How to Improve Your Chance of Getting In

Take it one step at a time.

By now you know the multi-headed beast college applications are, especially if you’re applying to a range of universities with different deadlines and due dates. It’s overwhelming feeling like you need to make drastic changes to your regular applications, but take it easy.

Once you’re refocused, ask critical questions about your application.

Which parts of your essay stand out to you as you reread it? Which parts convey your true personality? Which parts are just cliché filler texts? 

Understand what the results really mean.

There are three potential responses to your early application.

First, of course is acceptance, which differs between Early Decision and Early Action applications.

Second is rejection, which means that the school will not be looking at your application any further and you would have to apply elsewhere.

Third is a deferral letter. Deferrals are postponement of judgement on your application. Effectively, this means you have moved to the regular decision pool to be compared with other regular applicants, and you will hear a final decision in late March. Deferred applications are unable to be modified any further so your supplements and Common App essay are locked, however there still are some steps you can take to distinguish yourself from the other applicants and show continued interest. 

Don’t panic apply.

It’s totally unnecessary to panic and apply to a million schools, especially safeties and targets. Your time is precious, and don’t waste it on applying to a school that you knew you were not actually going to attend. Don’t let a rejection in the early round waver your confidence overall. Even if you do end up applying to a bunch of schools you aren’t in love with, just try to limit the total number of schools you do that with. 

Know that it’s not over yet.

Don’t lower your standards. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t take it personally.

A lot of people see early rejections as a failure but in reality, there are a hundred reasons why a school didn’t accept your application. Maybe they needed another regional, extracurricular or diversity quota filled. Maybe they want to see how your senior grades trend. Maybe there was an applicant similar to you but could fill a vacant spot on the orchestra, newspaper or the skating team. 

Don’t lower your standards.
Don’t get discouraged.
Don’t take it personally.

The very first college decision is not an indicator of how the rest of your decisions will pan out, so don’t let an ED rejection bear any influence or impact. Don’t lose confidence in yourself or decrease your effort just because this one school didn’t work out.

When I was deferred by Yale in the early round, I certainly didn’t let that stop me from applying to other competitive reach schools. It truly is the university’s loss, not yours. No matter what school you end up with, you will be successful and you will thrive!

Again, it’s not about where you go—it’s about what you do with the resources you have.

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Author: Lauren

Lauren is a college student, double majoring in Economics and Psychology.