First of all, if you’re reading this and you have not already been rejected from every college you applied to, stop.
It is very unlikely that this will happen to you. If you’ve already sent in all of your college applications and are waiting to hear back, then you’re just stressing yourself out for nothing. Focus on your schoolwork or friends instead.
If you haven’t applied to school yet, and you’re freaking out about the possibility of being rejected everywhere, you can improve your odds by applying to multiple colleges. In addition to your dream schools, apply to places you think will likely accept you and where you would be willing to attend if your other options didn’t work out. If you’re concerned about the cost of additional college applications, check out this article on college application fee waivers.
If you are one of the few to whom this has occurred, however, or you feel you simply must explore the implications of this worst-case scenario, the rest of this article will address what to do if you find yourself in this unhappy situation.
First off, you may not have missed the boat entirely — many colleges offer relatively late application deadlines. So, if you get nothing but rejection letters in the spring, you’ll still have a few weeks to apply to schools like Clemson University, University of Arizona — and many others.
Meanwhile, other schools offer rolling admissions, meaning that they admit students on an ongoing basis, as students apply. These schools will sometimes still have spots open after the traditional deadline period. You can find schools with rolling admissions deadlines via the Common Application site.
You’ll find that some colleges have spots open for longer than you may expect. Every May, the National Association for College Admission Counseling releases a list of colleges that still have openings. The list is behind a paywall, though, so talk to your high school guidance department or counselor; they should be able to help you look at these options.
Another thing to be aware of: If any colleges informed you that you are on their waitlists, it is worthwhile to write them a nice note reiterating both your interest in the school and your qualifications.
Deferred? All hope is not lost! Check out our article about what to do if you’ve been deferred.
Finally, although kind of a long shot, you can ask your guidance counselor to plead your case to colleges’ admissions offices. Guidance counselors are allowed to contact admissions offices in ways that you are not, and they can help tell your story in a way that your application cannot. If you’re lucky, your guidance counselor may be able to help get you in as a January freshman.
An additional option is to enroll in community college. You could get a two-year degree; you could go for a period of time and then transfer to a four-year school; or you could do both: get your two-year degree and then transfer to get a four-year degree.
_To learn more about these options, read a firsthand account about the transition between from community college to a four-year university._
Finally, you can explore taking a gap year. You can travel, work, or do something good for the world for a semester or two, then apply to college again later. Taking a gap year can be extremely valuable — check out these reasons to take a year off after high school.
There’s a range of options available to you, but you still may find the prospect of dealing with all this daunting. If that’s the case, definitely take a look at “How to Get Rejected From College" by Hazel Cills. (FYI, the piece includes some swearing, though if you’re old enough to apply to college, you are probably old enough to read the f-word in print.)
The piece helps put this whole process in perspective and includes advice like, “You are not your application," “‘Everything happens for a reason’ is actually sort of true," and “You’re totally going to look back on that time you got rejected from college and LOL."
Obviously, being rejected from college is the worst, but it’s worth keeping in mind that whether you choose to pursue late/rolling admissions colleges, last-minute help from your guidance department, community college, or a gap year, everything will probably turn out just fine in the end. You may not have the choices you’d hoped for, but you still have a great many options.