Applying to college can be an exhilarating and — let’s face it — downright terrifying process.
One part of you feels excited to start this new phase of your life and to experience everything college has to offer. But the other part of you worries about what might happen if you don’t get accepted into the school of your choice.
The college application process is certainly emotional, but there are ways to prepare yourself for whatever happens.
Getting rejected by the college of your dreams has to be one of the worst feelings in the world. When you’ve been making plans, picturing yourself on campus, and waiting so long for the official word, getting bad news in your inbox can feel devastating. Even if a school is not your top choice, bad news can still sting; no one likes being rejected.
After you let yourself mourn, try to gain a little perspective. This is a speed bump — not a stop sign — on your road to success. College admissions are extremely competitive, and schools are becoming increasingly selective.
You can’t take it personally; every school has its own reasons for accepting or rejecting someone. It doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough or that you’re a failure. A school could be seeking a particular type of student to round out its incoming first-year class; you can’t know what the rest of the applicant pool looked like. Maybe there were too many mathematicians from New York whom they accepted early, and they are now seeking tuba players from Alaska. Who knows? We all experience rejection at one time or another in our lives. What’s important is how we respond to and rebound from it.
Here are a few things to consider when you don’t get into the college of your choice:
Going to a celebrated school can look impressive on your resume, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll land your dream job. In fact, Newsweek published a survey showing that employers value experience and confidence over where an applicant went to college.
Focus on getting your degree. Pursue an internship or other work experience along the way. Work hard, and get engaged in opportunities that are important to you. These are the steps that really matter.
If you didn’t get into any of the schools you applied to, that’s okay, too. You can take demanding classes at a community college, focus on getting good grades, and reapply to other schools the following year. Or you can spend a year interning, volunteering, or working as you prepare to reapply.
Before it became a bestseller, J.K. Rowling's “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was rejected 12 times from different publishing houses that didn’t think it was a good fit for them. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. But these setbacks didn’t stop them. They rolled with the punches and used the rejection to motivate themselves and become hugely successful. So you didn’t get into the college of your dreams. Brush it off, get back up, and dedicate yourself to proving that college wrong.
Don’t dwell on what you didn’t get, i.e., an acceptance letter from your top college. Instead, celebrate the acceptance letter or letters you did get. After all, getting into any college is a big accomplishment. Enjoy this moment, and commit yourself to making the most of it.
If, after months of waiting, you finally get the email you’ve been waiting for and it contains good news, then take the time to celebrate. You’ve been accepted! Congratulations! All of your hard work has paid off.
But what if you’re accepted at multiple schools? How do you know you’re choosing the right college?
First of all, relax. This is a good problem to have. Here are a few things to consider when you're making your final choice:
Most colleges host admitted-student days in which you can get an in-depth look at the campus and meet other students who’ve been accepted. While you’re there, pay attention to how you feel — listen to your gut. Sometimes that’s the best indicator of whether a school is right for you.
Also speak with current students, alumni, and admissions officers. Students and recent grads will give you honest opinions about life at the school; admissions reps can answer your questions about the school’s academic offerings and the resources that are available to you.
College is a huge investment that will affect your finances years down the road. See which school is offering you the best package, and make sure you understand all the fine details about any loans, grants, and scholarships you receive. Review how your aid is distributed over the entirety of your college career, as aid can decrease from the first year to subsequent years.
Once you’ve made your final choice, send in all the necessary paperwork as soon as you can. Also, don’t forget to send notifications to the other schools that accepted you to inform them of your decision. It’s good manners, and it allows them to admit another student; you’d want the same courtesy extended to you if you were on the waitlist at your chosen school. And, of course, just because you’ve been accepted, don’t fall victim to “senioritis." Keep your grades up and your nose clean, or else your college could rescind its offer (seriously).
“Colleges try to enroll the students who they believe will have the best chance for success at their university and in their chosen academic program," says Kellie Laurenzi, dean of admissions at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.
“Likewise, students should remain focused on finding the school that is the right fit for them. Do extensive research up front. At the very minimum, visit at least your top three schools. Identify what is most important to you and realize that, while one school may not accept you, there are still other schools to consider that may work out to be a better fit in the long run."
Whether or not you get into the college of your dreams, it’s how you react and respond that really matters — as with everything else in life! Keep working hard, and have a positive attitude — no matter what happens — and you’ll be more likely to find success in the end.
Struggling to find the right words to talk about your college admissions outcomes with others? Read our article Did You Get In? An Etiquette Guide for College Admissions.