The College Rejection Survival Guide

College rejection is a fact that many high school students face every spring. Chances are fair that a school you have your heart set on attending will send you the dreaded admissions rejection letter.

Take a moment to review our 3-stage college rejection guide, because you’ll understand why rejection is not the end and how to successfully move forward.

If you haven’t already, take a moment to check out our various SAT prep and ACT prep options.

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College Rejection Survival Stage 1 – Acknowledgement

The first step in moving forward from a college rejection is acknowledging what happened in a healthy manner.

Acknowledge Disappointment – The first step is to realize and be honest about how disappointed you are. Let’s face it, if you had your heart set on attending a particular school and you receive that rejection letter in the mail, then you likely won’t feel good about it.

The healthiest thing to do at that moment is acknowledging that feeling. Why? Because pretending that it doesn’t bother you only bottles up the emotion, instead of releasing it. That disappointment can then end up causing you to lash out at friends and loved ones and, more importantly, distract you from moving forward in your college career.

Understand That It’s Not Personal – After acknowledging that you are disappointed, the next important step to take is to understand that it’s not personal. College admissions boards make their decisions based on factors that are completely out of your control. You have to understand that admissions officials assemble classes like sports managers assemble teams.

Perhaps your spot was taken by a legacy student whose family has donated a lot of money over the years, or the school’s football team needs to recruit a couple of new starting players. Those are very specific examples, but again, think of a college class as a team that’s assembled and no matter how hard you’ve worked, you simply may not be a fit for the class they’re assembling this particular year. It’s never a judgment on who you are as a person.


Literally, Work Out Those Feelings – Let’s say though that you’ve acknowledged your disappointment, but you still can’t shake feelings of anger and resentment towards the school. Again, this is a very common reaction to have but it doesn’t need to be permanent. A common remedy is to expel that negative energy through physical activity.

A hard work out or martial arts class can work wonders in expelling that energy, as long as you are not using it as a fuel to keep staying that way. A simple daily workout, even a brisk walk, can help you dispel those bottled emotions that transform into anger if not expressed in some fashion.

College Rejection Survival Stage 2 – Assessment

Once you work through those initial feelings, it’s time to assess what actually happened and start making a plan.

Talk To People You Know And Trust – Not accepting the rejection and suppressing it inside yourself will likely lead to anger, resentment, and full-on emotional breakdown. There’s no need to let that happen when you have people who care about you. Reach out to a best friend, a family member, or better yet, your guidance counselor.

Your friend may be going through a similar rejection so you two can commiserate with each other. Your parents will be there to support you and pick you up. Your guidance counselor can both listen to your thoughts but also help you look at other options and analyze other schools who may have accepted you. Any of these options is better than literally doing nothing but let anger build.

Reassess Why It Was Your Dream School – You’ve been rejected from your dream school. What made it your “dream school” in the first place? Was it a particular academic program? The location? The campus culture? The prestige of attendance? The reason to reassess is that there’s likely another school or schools that match those desirable qualities that you found in your first choice.

It’s possible that they may still have spots open, whereas your main one has closed itself off already. Plus, it gives you concrete action to pursue towards fulfilling your education and not wallow in not getting into a particular school.

Assess Other Schools’ Admissions Policies – Connected with reassessing what made your dream school appealing, also start to reevaluate admissions criteria at other schools. Look at how difficult your dream school’s admissions standards are and see if there are other schools that are comparable but have somewhat easier standards that you can meet.

If one school doesn’t see you as exceptional enough because of the standards it holds itself by, that doesn’t mean there aren’t others that are as good academically but have easier standards you can meet. More importantly, that reevaluation will show that you’re still a strong, qualified student that can get into a variety of schools. All you need to do is put in the work.

College Rejection Survival Stage 3 – Move Forward

Now is the time to make a plan to move forward and find success from this momentary setback.

Evaluate Different Acceptance Offers – While applying to your dream school, hopefully, you also developed a list of alternative schools that you applied to as well. Chances are good that some of those schools send you a positive acceptance offer. A great way to move forward from that one rejection is to instead focus on the variety of other offers you receive and evaluate which one is the right fit for you.

Look at the possibilities each school offers and how exciting those choices are really. Focus on the excitement of all those yes’s and don’t sweat that one no that you received. Ultimately, you will see that not only are you a great student but that schools want you badly; that alone will only build your confidence and prepare you for the adventure to come.

Apply to Other Schools – If you hadn’t already done so, then definitely put together a list of schools as reasonable alternatives, both in terms of interest and easier admissions standards, than your dream school. Timing will likely be problematic, depending on when you first started applying. However, there are many schools with either late spring application deadlines or rolling deadlines that can accept applications as far out as May or June for their Fall classes.

Usually, in those months, schools will evaluate how much space they have left and often will accept in more applicants. However, don’t assume that you’ll automatically get in without trying. If you are looking for a new school to apply to, then speak with your counselor to research which colleges and universities accept later submissions and have space in their Fall classes.

Move On And Forward – The final step in surviving college rejection is moving on and forward. Again, it’s ok to take a few days or a week to process the negative feelings from being rejected; in fact, as we’ve already stated, it’s healthy because you avoid internalizing anger and resentment. After that mourning though, it’s time to get back to business. Handling rejection is a tool that you’ll use your entire life, whether it’s from a job, date, or in this case, school.

Process the feelings, refocus and then move forward with the same enthusiasm you had when first applying to that dream school. Remember that highly-selective institutions often have admissions rates well below 10 percent; at those rates, even valedictorians have trouble getting into them. Don’t let a school’s rejection define you, let it empower you instead.


How Prep Expert Can Help You

To help minimize your college rejection experience, we have a number of options that can help you during the application and admissions process.

At Prep Expert, we are vested in helping you get into the school of your choice through both our test prep classes and, now, our admissions consulting services. In addition to our SAT prep and ACT prep options, we also have services that will help you with what to do after taking one of the tests and getting your scores back.

We can help you with crafting your admission essays, prepare you for interviews, etc. Our Admissions Director can help you with those services; to learn more about our Admissions Consulting services, don’t hesitate to contact us today for further information.

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