How To Handle College Rejection Letters

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.

Acknowledge Disappointment

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.

Move On

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.


All In! How To Avoid Overcommitting On Extracurricular Activities

In the past week I’ve met three new students who told me they were no longer involved in extracurricular activities because they had committed all their time to one thing which didn’t work out.

  • “Susan” played competitive softball.  She was on the school’s varsity team and a competitive select club team.  Last fall an injury permanently ended her ability to play.  Currently her only extracurricular activity is physical therapy.
  • “James” was in band.  He marched every fall, played concerts and competitions in the spring, and attended camp in the summer.  Band consumed his free time.  After marching season, he quit, primarily due to personality conflicts, but he was also burnt out on spending 20 hours a week on band.  Currently he is enjoying his extra time, but he has no other extracurricular activities.
  • “Morgan” was the queen of competitive cheer.  From the time she was in elementary school, she lived in the gym.  She took tumbling lessons, strength and flexibility classes, and competed with some of the best teams in the area. She quit her freshman year saying, “I was tired; it just wasn’t fun anymore.”  She’s currently involved with two clubs at school that take a few hours of her time each month.

Here’s my complaint – had Susan, James, and Morgan completed college applications a year or two ago they would look like superstars– highly involved, holding leadership positions, truly dedicated to developing interests and talents.  But now, junior year, when it counts, they aren’t doing much.

As parents we can talk about overcommitted kids or the pressures to excel from a young age.  But my complaint is with the “all in” mentality we’ve developed with activities. It can start slowly as kids are naturally drawn to some activities over others.  Add the pressure from coaches, teachers, or directors who suggest private lessons, additional practice, or off-season training.  Pretty soon kids are so deeply involved with ONE activity that if they choose to quit or are forced out due to injury, they have nothing left.

I understand that to become truly great in an area sacrifices must be made.  Sometimes potential Olympic gymnasts or figure skaters must forgo the traditional school experience to compete on a national stage at age 15, 16, or 17.  I know Justin Bieber didn’t spend the past two years worried about service hours for National Honor Society.

But most of our kids won’t be performing at the Grammys or Olympics.  Most of them won’t continue in their sport or activity after high school.  So are we doing them a service by allowing them to go all in with one activity at an early age?

Focusing on one activity to the exclusion of others can have drawbacks, even for students who continue to excel.  Students run the risk of appearing one-dimensional and missing out on developing other interests or related skills.

Before you allow or encourage your child to go all in with one activity, ask yourself some questions:

  • Could we make time for a couple hours of something else each week?  (Think service, writing, music, academics, work)
  • What other talents or interests could we promote with another activity?  Can we show another dimension or greater depth?  (Avoid the “dumb jock” stereotype by tutoring before school.  Develop writing and research talent by starting a blog.  Pursue an interest in the medical field by volunteering a few hours a week at the hospital.)
  • Is there a way my child could use his or her talents in another way?  (The athlete who volunteers with Special Olympics or coaches younger students.  The musician who plays at the retirement center every week or helps with the middle school band.)
  • Are we emphasizing the right things? Does our allocation of time and money reflect the values and things we feel are most important?

I love seeing kids who are passionate and involved.  They tend to do better in school.  But when it comes to college admission (and the more important goal of raising responsible, capable, and caring kids) going all out for one activity isn’t as beneficial as finding time for some balance.

My advice to Susan, James, and Morgan was the same.  Get out there and get involved.  Let your choice of clubs, activities, service groups, or work reflect your personality, talents, interests, and potential college major.  Participate in things that are rewarding.  Hang out in places and with people who encourage you to do your best and be a better person.  Don’t worry about what colleges want; there is no magic formula.  Get out there and get involved.  Just do it!

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College Admission: Can We Beat The System?


My son is applying to a bunch of state schools in Texas, but Texas A&M is his top choice. He is not in the top 10%, so won’t be automatically admitted.   He wants to apply to engineering, but it is so competitive at A&M. Would he be better off listing his first choice major in engineering and his second choice in another less-competitive field?  (We were thinking agriculture.)


This is a popular question. Essentially it boils down to whether or not students who are applying to a competitive school can game the system by choosing a particular major. In other words, this parent is asking if it would it be easier for her son to get into A&M if he chose a major other than engineering.  Would it increase his odds?

First, a word of caution, at some schools it’s very difficult to change majors. There are some universities where it is almost impossible to transfer into a popular major if you are not initially admitted into that program.  Some students trying to find ways around competitive admissions standards find themselves stuck in a program they don’t like.

One example…I was touring North Carolina State University two years ago. One of their most competitive programs is Elementary Education. At the time they were admitting 60 students per year and the only way you could transfer into Elementary Education was if one of those 60 people left.

Be very careful in applying to things that aren’t really your intention with the idea of being able to increase your odds for admission.

Second, schools are going to look at a student’s first choice of major and if that student doesn’t qualify, they will offer another department before rejecting the student.  Going back to the question, if the son doesn’t qualify for engineering at A&M but A&M would have him in another department, they will make an offer of admission.  In other words, the school will say, “We don’t have a place for you in engineering but we do have a place for you at the university in general.”

For years I’ve heard rumors generated by students looking for short-cuts. Some of them are just laughable. When I worked as a school counselor I heard students strategizing about how they would get past their lower class ranks and gain admission to the University of Texas.  One said,  “Man, you’ve got to apply to UT as a nursing student. They don’t get a lot of applications from guys in nursing. You’ll be in.”   I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation as I was eavesdropping, but the school of nursing at the University of Texas is pretty competitive. True, they do get more women applying, but they still get a number of very well qualified, very interested, young men. That strategy was not going to work!

Most often when you hear the latest way to get around challenging admissions standards, it isn’t true.  If you are torn between different majors and aren’t sure what to list on your application, give the university an honest answer based on your top choices at the time.  If the student from this question is honestly interested in both engineering and agriculture, it would be fine to list engineering first and agriculture second.  When in doubt, you can always call the admissions office and speak to a counselor.

As my grandfather always told us, “When you tell one lie, you have to tell 100 more to keep covering it up.”  Don’t play games with your college applications.  Answer honestly.


Do you have any questions about admission rumors you’ve heard?  Want to share some of the crazy strategies people are discussing in your area?  Leave a comment below.



Do Colleges Care About Gifted & Talented?



My daughter will be entering high school next year. She has always been in the GT program. How important is it for her to continue in GT? How do colleges view GT?

A lot elementary and middle schools stress GT – or the Gifted & Talented program. In my experience, GT is not a significant factor in most high schools and it plays a very minimal role in college admissions. Read more