Every spring thousands of students receive rejection letters from colleges and universities. While it is disappointing, particularly when a top choice school sends a rejection letter, there are steps students can take to manage upsetting news and move forward in the admissions process.
It is upsetting. No one wants to get a rejection letter. When a student has put time and effort into vising a school, submitting an application, and picturing him or herself on campus, rejection is hurtful. It is okay to spend a day or two grieving the loss of an opportunity. Students who acknowledge their feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration, or loss are better able to move onto new possibilities than those who try to ignore their feelings and end up lashing out at family and friends unexpectedly.
Reevaluate criteria and priorities.
Once the initial shock and disappointment wear off, get back to the big picture of finding a college that is a good fit. This means letting go of the option that is no longer available and getting into the mindset of finding the next choice. I’ve worked with students who ended up with no options by the time they graduated because they refused to get past the disappointment of a rejection and move on to “Plan B.”
This step goes hand in hand with attainable admissions standards. Sometimes rejection letters force students to face unpleasant facts. This is often where good (and great) students are told they are not exceptional enough to gain admission to the ultra-selective colleges on their lists. It is a time to look for great schools with friendlier admissions policies. Reevaluating the initial criteria for selecting colleges can help refocus on the overall goal.
Evaluate Other Acceptance Offers
Hopefully students will have developed lists of potential schools so that they will have other offers of admission. Focusing on the positive acceptances and the possibilities of each can help students handle rejection. This is why I have moved away from the term “backup school” because I want students to see all options as good choices and not feel they have to settle if they aren’t accepted at their top choice school.
Even if all top choice schools sent rejection letters, a student can still find a positive alternative. It is as if a student finds she won’t get a new luxury car, but will receive an economy car. Seeing the benefits of the new car, even if it is an economy model rather than a luxury one, can help. Other acceptance offers are better than no acceptance offers.
Apply to Other Schools if Necessary
If a student has been rejected from all schools to which he or she applied, it may be necessary to submit applications to additional colleges. Students who have reason to believe they will not receive any letters of acceptance should look for schools with easier admissions standards than the ones they applied to before.
I know application deadlines have passed at many schools, but there are still options. Schools with late spring application deadlines or rolling decision options may accept applications as late as May or June for fall registration. These new schools may have friendlier admission criteria, but don’t assume students will get in without trying. (In other words, don’t underestimate these colleges. Later deadlines doesn’t mean they accept everyone; put effort into those applications.)
In May colleges evaluate how many students have enrolled and how much space, if any, they have available in the incoming class. Students in need of a backup school in May, June, or July should contact their counselors to find out which colleges and universities still have openings for the fall semester.
The final step and handling college rejection is moving on. After a week or two of lamenting the lost opportunity, students need to move on. Accepting rejection, whether from a college, employer, or potential date, is part of growing up. Learning to handle rejection in a mature calm manner will help students avoid potentially embarrassing situations in the future and open their minds to new opportunities.
When highly-selective universities have admissions rates below 10 percent, even valedictorians are denied admission. What students do in the days and weeks following will determine if they are successfully able to handle rejection and move on.