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3 Steps to Take if You Didn't Get Into Your Dream College

When I was a high school senior, college decisions were sent out by mail. A thin envelope usually indicated bad news, while a thick envelope was a reason to rejoice. At the time, I didn't know anything about how to select the right colleges to apply to, and my lack of knowledge led me to receive six thin envelopes in a row.

I felt despair at the thought that I may not be attending college anywhere. I was a strong student and wasn't expecting to be turned down by some colleges I considered safe bets.

You are not alone if you feel confused, anxious, and sad about your college admissions denials.

So what should you do?

1. Avoid the urge to understand why you weren't accepted.

As long as your application was complete, you met the minimum requirements for admission, and your GPA, course rigor, test scores (if provided) were not below the 25th percentile of accepted students at the college, it is improbable that you will find an apparent reason you weren't accepted.

When a college receives more applications from qualified students than it has room for, it selects applicants based on how well they meet its institutional needs. For example, one year, a college may desire an applicant from North Dakota to ensure its students represent all 50 states. The following year, it may need a bassoon player to fill a vacancy in the orchestra. It may have too many applicants interested in majoring in computer science and not enough interested in studying linguistics.

It's impossible to know each college's current needs. You may have been a strong applicant and simply didn't meet the precise criteria the college was looking for in applicants this year to narrow down their pool of qualified candidates.

2. Grieve the loss.

It's frustrating to have done everything you thought was needed to get admitted to a particular college and still receive a denial. It's normal to feel upset, especially if you thought you had a good chance of acceptance and had to give up other things to pursue this goal. You may have dreamed of attending college X for as long as you remember. Your closet might be full of its collegiate apparel, and you cheer for their football team. Maybe your parents and grandparents graduated from it, and your best friend will be attending. Mourn the loss of the idea you had for your next four years. Remind yourself that your identity is comprised of several parts, and where you attend college is just one part of it.

3. Focus on what you have control over.

You still have choices, so it's time to get to work making important decisions and taking steps towards reaching your goals. Yes, you still can reach your goals; you may just need to reenvision how you will get there. Let this quote from Steve Maraboli sink in:

"Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.”

If you have been accepted by at least one college, take steps to fall in love with it if you haven't already. Remember what you liked about it that led you to apply. Learn as much as you can about it. Attend admitted students' day and start connecting with other incoming first-year students. Talk to current students about what they like about the school. Find classes you want to take and clubs you want to join.

Success in college is primarily attributed to what you make of your experience. Many highly successful people, including Warren Buffett, Steven Spielberg, and Barack Obama, were turned down by their dream colleges but made the best of it.

If you have not been accepted by any college, you have at least three choices:

  • You can apply to other four-year colleges still taking applications for entry this fall. There are over 700 colleges that have application deadlines after April 1. A list of these follows this article.

  • You can start at your local community college, which is also very likely to cost less than your original plan.

  • You can take a gap year and apply to college again in the fall.

After weeks of not knowing whether I would be attending college anywhere, I received a fat envelope from a college that met my family's full financial need. My story had a happy ending, and so can yours.

The path to success is rarely a straight line. You can be successful no matter where you attend college. Make the choice that is right for you.


Colleges with application deadlines on or after April 1, 2024:


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