Dealing with College Decisions: Why Rejection Isn't the End of the World, but More Like the Opposite

You put in so much work to apply to the college of your dreams. You showed admissions what you’ve accomplished, what you want, who you are, why you belong at their school…

And their response to all that was a quick and definitive “...we regret to inform you...”?

Of course you feel disappointed. Maybe you feel like you’re not good enough and not wanted. Or maybe you feel frustrated, thinking they must have made a mistake to turn down such a qualified applicant. You may even feel angry or depressed. Whatever your reaction, go easy on yourself as you move through your thoughts and emotions.

When you are ready, know that you ARE good enough. Know that admissions decisions do not determine your worth as a unique, incredible individual. Not even a little bit.  

As you contemplate your future, here are a few thoughts to help you feel more secure:

Colleges are not rejecting you as a person.

Competitive colleges and universities receive way more perfectly qualified applications than they can accept. For all you know, yours is one of them. With limited space however, the schools need to make sure they build a balanced, fully-functioning student body--perhaps this year they simply needed more theater majors, or lacrosse players.

There’s a chance you wouldn’t have wanted to go to that school anyway.

Your qualifications aside, without being a student at a given school, you simply cannot know if you’d thrive in its campus environment, culture, programs, etc. Think of the admissions decisions process as all of the colleges you applied to working together to help you figure out the best school to attend. They are kindly letting you know, with their insider’s perspective, that you and their school really aren’t quite the right match at this time.

There’s also a chance you’ll love the college you go to more than you thought. You may have been so invested in your top-choice school(s) that you overlooked some fantastic aspects of other schools. Find out what makes you truly excited to go to a school you were admitted to. And when you get there, you’ll likely be delighted to encounter unexpected life-changing opportunities and people you otherwise wouldn’t have. You never know, your future best friend or spouse might be waiting for you there too.

You, not your undergraduate college, are in charge of your life.

You’ve gotten yourself to a great place so far, and, regardless of where you go, your future success is entirely up to you. You have control over your mindset. You have control over your actions. A National Bureau of Economic Research study agrees: “Evidently, students' motivation, ambition, and desire to learn have a much stronger effect on their subsequent success than the average academic ability of their classmates.”

How about a case in point: Steven Spielberg was rejected from UCLA film school and USC School of Cinema Arts--twice. He ended up going to Cal State Long Beach, and then he won over 100 awards, including three academy awards, and is now a multi-billionaire.

Also, if you plan to go on to graduate school, keep this tidbit from university professor David W. Breneman in mind:

Performing at a high level in a good quality but not highly prestigious college may give a student a better chance of getting into graduate or professional school than being lost in the middle of the pack in a highly selective institution.The quality of graduate or professional school will matter more in the long run to a student’s success in life than the ranking of the undergraduate college.

You’re not stuck. There are always options.

If, after attending another school for a bit, you still strongly prefer to be somewhere else, you can always apply as a transfer student. Of course, you’ll want to build the strongest profile you possibly can to maximize your chances.

Added bonus! You are getting good at handling bumps in the road.

Every person in this world experiences ups and downs. It’s a requirement of life. Remember that within the negatives are always positives. Learn from the negatives; look for the positives. And keep taking risks, expanding, learning, living, regardless of (or even because of) the unexpected roadblocks. No need to push so hard against a blockade when you can find a better path around it.

Above all, trust yourself to succeed. Now go follow that inner drive and unleash your talents on the world!

Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.