Student-centric advice and objective recommendations
Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.
Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here.
How to Deal with a College Rejection Letter
Rejections, including those from colleges, are an unfortunately normal part of life. However, they can still hurt, making students feel as if they didn’t do enough. So, although it is certainly valid to spend some time “grieving” a rejection from one’s dream school, students should also spend some time celebrating their acceptances and preparing their next steps.
To find out some of our best tips for dealing with college rejection letters (which we’ve seen a great deal of ourselves), keep on reading!
Also see: What to do if you are rejected from every college you apply to
The reality of rejection
If there’s anything to know about college rejections, it’s that most everybody receives at least one. In fact, as each year passes, universities’ acceptance rates tend to go lower and lower. This is especially true for elite universities, with only 5% of Harvard and Columbia applicants receiving acceptance letters in 2019. So, what can we gather from all this?
Simply knowing that you’re not alone! Seem like everybody else is receiving acceptance after acceptance? This may simply be because they are acknowledging and celebrating the good news rather than the bad. It’s more likely than not that the vast majority of college applicants receive at least one college rejection. However, this “bad” news often goes unshared with others (and understandably so). However, even if unshared, college rejections can still hurt. So, what should you do after receiving one?
Dealing with college rejection: 5 simple tips
Arguably, the best way to “deal” with possible college rejections is to have a plan beforehand. This might mean applying to some schools you will likely get into. Usually, a plan includes schools with a 50/50 chance of acceptance, and some that may seem a little more unattainable.
However, this viewpoint tends to ignore the reality: that many students become attached to a specific “dream” school(s). If rejected from that school, it may certainly feel painful. So, here are some of our best recommendations and tips for dealing with college rejection:
1. Plan ahead before you apply
As mentioned, an important part of dealing with college rejections is by preparing beforehand. On one hand, this means coming to terms with the reality and likelihood of college rejections. On another hand, it can mean being realistic about your odds of acceptance to each school you apply to.
For example, this means understanding that applying to10 separate schools, each with a quite low (~10%) acceptance rate, may not guarantee your admission into a college. Colleges, especially more selective ones, receive tens and tens of thousands of applicants. That fact makes it quite difficult to gain a spot in that selective “10%.”
So, what would we recommend? As we mentioned before, your best bet is to apply to a range of schools. This includes more competitive schools, match schools (that you have around a 50/50 chance of acceptance into based on your stats), and backup schools (which you have a quite high chance of acceptance into). If you want more info on what exactly these “reach”, match, and “safety” schools are, we would recommend checking out Safety, reach, and match schools: Everything you need to know!
See also: How many colleges should I apply to?
2. Don’t take it personally
So, we’ve now covered what you should do before you apply to colleges. However, what should you do after you actually receive a college rejection? First: don’t take it personally.
Considering the incredibly low acceptance rates at competitive colleges, students should remember that being rejected from one is not reflective of their own capabilities. In fact, famous director and producer Stephen Spielberg was once rejected from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Despite this, he went on to attend another college, won multiple Oscars, and is now considered to be one of the best directors of all time.
Further, very selective colleges tend to admit less than 10% of applicants, and admissions committees often try to create a more balanced class. Thus, students’ academic strengths are often not the only factor being considered. So, don’t take a college rejection as a sign that you’re incapable of achieving your dreams. Rather, we recommend seeing it as another path that has now opened itself up to you.
As part of this new path, though, you should first remember to take some time to “grieve” college rejections – especially those that particularly hurt. Let’s see how.
3. Acknowledge your feelings
Rejection from a “dream” school can certainly feel painful. So, perhaps most importantly, we would recommend taking some time to “grieve” and acknowledge your feelings.
For many young, passionate students, it may be hard to picture yourself anywhere else but a specific dream school. You may have already envisioned yourself walking around campus, making friends, and spending the entire four years (more or less) at a particular school. It can be genuinely heartbreaking to know that the future now seems more like a distant dream than a real possibility.
For such hardworking students, rejection from college may also be the first time in their lives that they were unable to achieve what they have worked so hard for. However, we urge these young students to remember that their academic performance or success is not connected to their self-worth.
If you are still set on your dream school, we want to remind you that it is still an option! Although it may not completely match the vision you had for yourself, you can still transfer in (or even re-apply) to that same school. Alternatively, you can even attend it down the line for graduate school.
See Also: Can I reapply to a college that rejected me?
4. Celebrate your acceptances
Once you’ve finished grieving, it’s time to celebrate! Now’s the time to look over your acceptances and get excited at your many new possibilities.
Whether it’s your second-choice school, a school that offers you a large scholarship, or any other school that interests you, students should seriously consider their options. Think about where you can envision yourself, and if you can manage to, we might even recommend visiting each school to see how you like them. Alternatively, we might recommend reaching out to current students at each school to see what they like about them.
Hopefully, you’ll find a college that makes you just as excited as your “dream” school did, and you’ll have a great four years there! On the other hand, if you still find yourself lamenting the loss of your dream school, remember that you still have a few other options. Let’s look into them.
5. Consider your other options
Simply, rejection from a school once does not mean that you’re banned forever. So, in between now and submitting your new application to your “dream” school, here’s a few things you can do in the meantime:
Attend another university
A possible choice, and perhaps one you’ve already considered, is attending another university for a year (and subsequently transferring to the school you’re thinking of reapplying to). Doing so will be a good opportunity to show your target school that you’re passionate about getting an education. And, if you decide to attend a community college, you’ll accumulate some college credit at a cost that is likely lower than what you’d pay at a four-year university. Further, attending another university for a year will give you the chance to raise your GPA and participate in some extra- curricular activities, especially if you feel that those were somewhat lacking in your original application.
If you anticipate that you may end up transferring, be sure to check out these helpful articles:
- How to transfer colleges: A step-by-step guide
- Transferring from a community college guide
- How to write a college transfer essay (with examples)
Alternatively, you may end up liking the school you attend instead – and no longer feel the need to transfer. If so, great!
On the other hand, if you are dead set on your dream school and you don’t want to transfer in, another option is taking a gap year.
Consider a gap year
Depending on who you ask, taking a gap year is either (1) a risky decision or (2) an opportunity to boost your chances the second time (application cycle) around. Those who deem it a “risky” decision claim that colleges may see it as a “waste of time.” However, if you use this time to apply yourself and get involved in something meaningful to you, colleges will see that – and appreciate it too!
So, what does something “meaningful” look like? Well, it includes a range of things: volunteering, working, interning, or even traveling. Whether you decide to work at your local coffee shop, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or even go abroad and study another language – what’s most important is that you reflect on how you grew from your experiences. Taking a gap year and accumulating new experiences may be especially helpful for those whose applications included few “life experiences,” by helping fill this perceived gap.
See also: Taking a gap year: Everything you need to know
And last, but certainly not least, if you simply want to attend your “dream” school at some point in your life, you can always apply there for graduate or professional school.
With that, though, we’re done! No matter which school you end up going to, remember that receiving a college rejection does not indicate anything negative about you, and simply means that you have a new, and different path to take. So, we wish you good luck, and a happy college application season!
Frequently asked questions
Can you ask colleges why they rejected you?
While students may ask colleges why they received a rejection, it is unlikely that they will get an answer. If they do, it will most likely be quite generic – referring to the university’s holistic admission process and/or a large number of competitive applicants. Thus, rather than focusing on why you may have been rejected from a university, we would recommend turning your attention to the schools that accepted you – or the schools you’re hoping to attend instead. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to start preparing (to go to campus in the fall, or to apply to different universities)!
Can you appeal a college rejection?
Yes. While students certainly can ask a university to appeal a college rejection, these are rarely, if ever, successful in changing an admission decision. Many counselors only recommend that students appeal their decision if an important piece of information was missing from their application. Otherwise, trying to appeal an admissions decision is often a waste of a student’s time and effort. A better option is to take a gap year or attend another university and transfer. This way, you can get more experience under your belt if you ultimately decide to reapply.