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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 Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, and Barack Obama, were turned down by their dream colleges but made the best of it. You can read about a few of them here.

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 600 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.



April 1

Clark Atlanta University

College of Mount Saint Vincent

Georgia College

Hult International Business School – U.S. & U.K.

Illinois State University

Ithaca College

Linfield University

Lyon College

Mercer University

New College of Florida

Plymouth State University

Rowan University

Seton Hall University

Siena College

Springfield College

SUNY College at Oneonta

SUNY Maritime College

SUNY Stony Brook University

The College of New Jersey

The University of Utah

University of North Georgia

University of South Florida

Western Connecticut State University

Zaytuna College

April 15-30 American University of Beirut (AUB)

Florida Atlantic University

Loyola University New Orleans

Massachusetts Maritime Academy

Menlo College

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

St. Thomas University, Canada

University of Kentucky

University of Michigan - Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

Swansea University

May 1 Augusta University

Bard College Berlin Bishop's University Bowling Green State University Cairn University

Central Connecticut State University Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science Clemson University College of Saint Benedict Colorado State University Delaware State University Emory & Henry College

Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) Georgia State University Gustavus Adolphus College Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Iona College Johnson & Wales University-Charlotte Johnson & Wales University-Providence Le Moyne College Lees-McRae College Lincoln University of Pennsylvania Michigan State University Mississippi College Morningside University Saint John's University (MN) Saint Louis University - Madrid Campus (Spain) Samford University Southern Illinois University Carbondale St. Edward's University Stockton University SUNY Cortland SUNY Oswego The University of Texas at Dallas United States Sports Academy University of Central Florida University of Iowa University of Nebraska-Lincoln University of Northern Colorado University of Tampa Westfield State University

May 2-31

Benedict College - Columbia, SC

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville The University of Arizona Underwood International College, Yonsei University Temple University, Japan Campus Anglo-American University in Prague Seattle University University of Saint Katherine Indiana University Bloomington University of North Texas UCAM Universidad Católica de Murcia University of Houston

June 1

DePaul University DePauw University

Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL)

Indiana State University

Jacobs University Bremen

Keene State College

Lewis University

Lourdes University

Maryland Institute College of Art

New Jersey City University

North Carolina A&T State University

Principia College

The University of Texas at San Antonio

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)

University of Massachusetts Lowell

University of Missouri

University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

University of St Andrews

Wilkes Honors College of FAU

June 15-30

Chicago State University

Franklin University Switzerland

Millsaps College

University of Missouri-Kansas City

Western Michigan University

Saint Martin's University

Worcester State University

Savannah College of Art and Design

William Paterson University of NJ

University of Southern Mississippi

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Newcastle University

University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol

Cornish College of the Arts

Durham University

Hastings College

St Mary's University, Twickenham, London

University of Aberdeen

University of Stirling

July 1

Antioch College

Art Academy of Cincinnati

Augustana College (Illinois)

Bay Path University

Belmont University

Columbia College (SC)

Covenant College

Dharma Realm Buddhist University

Felician University

Fisk University

Goshen College

Lycoming College

Mary Immaculate College

Maynooth University (Ireland)

McDaniel College

Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver)

Middle Tennessee State University

Missouri University of Science and Technology

National Louis University

Newberry College

Northern Kentucky University

Saginaw Valley State University

Shepherd University

Southeast Missouri State University

St. John Fisher College

The University of West Florida

Tuskegee University

University College Dublin

University of Limerick

University of Minnesota Rochester

University of North Florida

Warren Wilson College

Webber International University

July 8-31

Cleary University

Eckerd College

Hiram College

University of Akron

Cedar Crest College

Monash University

Simpson College

Curry College

Dakota Wesleyan University

Drury University

University of Pittsburgh

Alfred University

Bloomfield College

Centenary University

Eastern Connecticut State University

Elizabethtown College

Fort Lewis College

Guilford College

Immaculata University

Keystone College

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

August 1- September 6

Blackburn College

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Concordia University Wisconsin

The Master's University

Carroll University

Simpson University

*Source: Common App Application Requirements. Double-check that these colleges are still accepting applications before submitting one. Many of these colleges practice rolling admissions, and once their class fills, they stop accepting applications. On the other hand, other colleges may have spaces after their posted application deadlines. Soon after May 1, you can find a list of these colleges here: NACAC's annual College Openings Update: Options for Qualified Students.

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