Keystone logo

Four Tips for Dealing with Getting Rejected From Your Dream School

Millions of college seniors are eagerly planning to matriculate at the colleges of their choice next fall. For plenty of others, however, what should be an exciting time is tainted by an unfortunate reality: they were not accepted at their dream schools. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, don’t let it prevent you from embracing all of life’s rich opportunities. Instead, keep these four things in mind to turn college rejection heartache into happiness.

Sep 6, 2023
  • Student Tips
Four Tips for Dealing with Getting Rejected From Your Dream School

Millions of college seniors are eagerly planning to matriculate at the colleges of their choice next fall. For plenty of others, however, what should be an exciting time is tainted by an unfortunate reality: they were not accepted at their dream schools. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, don’t let it prevent you from embracing all of life’s rich opportunities. Instead, keep these four things in mind to turn college rejection heartache into happiness.

1. You’re In Good Company
The college applications process is increasingly competitive, and rejection is a very real part of that equation -- not just for you, but for many others. According to a survey of first-year students by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, just over 76 percent of students get into their first-choice schools. The remaining 25 percent, meanwhile, are in the exact same position as you.

Business team working on their business project together at office

Considering that more than 20 million students apply to college every year, that means that approximately five million students in the U.S. are rejected annually from their dream schools. In other words, you’re far from alone.

2. Amazing Options Abound
While each school is one-of-a-kind, the truth is that there’s no single “best college” out there. (Sorry, U.S. News and World Report!) In fact, every college comes with its own unique set of allures -- if you take the time to discover them, that is.

742273

Perhaps you’ve had your eye on a certain college or university since your grade school years, or maybe you fell in love with a particular campus or program during the application process. There’s a good chance this obsession may have distracted you from learning about everything other schools have to offer. Now is the time to whip out those college catalogs, settle down with your laptop, and plan some campus visits. Consider what drew you to your dream school in the first place. If you give them a chance, many schools are likely to share these attributes, or to offer otherwise overlooked qualities of their own.

Not to mention that wherever you end up, college is largely what you make of it. From meeting new friends to exploring potential career paths, these enriching experiences can be found at any college -- from the Ivy League to your local community college.

3. Remember: It’s Not Personal
College admissions is a complex and multi-factored process which extends far beyond your academic record. In fact, a number of other elements, such as socio-economic status, geographic diversity, and alumni affiliations, also come into play. There’s ultimately no way to predict exactly what admissions committees are looking for when making decisions about who will and who will not get in, but you can be sure about one thing: It’s not personal.

Young woman shrugging shoulders

Sometimes even the most amazing candidates find themselves on the receiving end of that dreaded thin letter or “After careful consideration, we regret to inform you…” email. Cut yourself some slack and accept that rejection is not a reflection on you, but a reflection on a set of factors largely outside of your control.

4. College Rejection Has No Bearing on Your Future Success
Sure, elite colleges may seem like the fast track to future success, but intelligence, hard work, passion and drive are equally important. In fact, some of the planet’s most successful people were rejected from their dream colleges, including Isaac Asimov, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Even Barack Obama suffered the sting of rejection before going on to become the president of the United States.

Education.

Not only that, but students who are turned down by highly selective schools earn roughly as much as those who are accepted and attend, according to research from Princeton University. So go ahead and pat yourself on the back for trying, then commit yourself to achieving your goals anyway.

And added bonus? This is not the first time in your life you’ll experience rejection. Learning to manage it now will help you overcome setbacks when they arise in the future.

While it’s okay to briefly wallow in your misery, continuing to do so serves no purpose other than standing in your own way. These four tips can help you not only cope with college rejection and quell the self-doubt that accompanies it, but also to realize a different and yet equally potential-filled path.

Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.