How to Deal With College Rejection: 5 Steps to Help You Bounce Back
Leslie Tucker PhD, May 22, 2021
Discover how to positively move forward after you’ve been rejected from college
It can arrive in different ways. Maybe you got a letter in the mail, or an email in your inbox, or a notification on your application portal. However it reached you, you’ve received something you hoped you wouldn’t—a college rejection.
It’s painful to pour months (years, really) into your college applications and not receive the outcome you wanted. Plus, you’ve already envisioned a potential future for yourself at this school. Your college denial letter has dashed those dreams, and it hurts.
While getting rejected from college can feel like the end of the world, I promise you it’s not. You’re not alone. Tens of thousands of students are denied from college every year. As a virtual college planning consultant, I’ve worked with many students in your shoes. And believe it or not, most will still go on to live the life they wanted.
In fact, many highly successful people were rejected from their top-choice colleges:
- Former President Obama was rejected from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
- Journalist Katie Couric was rejected from Smith College in Massachusetts.
- Director Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California and UC Los Angeles.
Despite these college rejections—or perhaps because of them—these famous individuals achieved all they could have dreamed of and more. This moment is hard. There’s no denying it. But be comforted knowing you’re in good company, and you still have a bright future ahead of you.
So how do you move out of this disappointment onto the successful college and career path you want? Keep reading to discover how to deal with college rejection using five tried-and-true steps to help you bounce back even better and stronger than before.
1. Face your emotions head-on
When you experience college rejection—or any rejection, for that matter—it’s important to give yourself some time to feel sad about it. If you don’t deal with your sadness in healthy ways, it’ll continue to affect you and prevent you from thriving.
With all the exciting potential and opportunities lying in front of you, you don’t want anything weighing you down. So sit with your disappointment. Feel sad. Process those emotions so you can let them go.
Here are a few ideas to help you deal with your sadness over college rejection.
- Talk with family and friends
- Sit outside
- Draw or paint
- Write in a journal
- Compose music or poetry
Whatever actions help you process and express your feelings best, do that. And don’t skip this step. Only after you start to feel better emotionally can you begin to mentally process your college rejection and create a plan to move forward.
2. Don’t get stuck on the “what ifs”
One of the most frustrating things about getting rejected from college is you might never know exactly why you weren’t accepted. Colleges rarely give you a reason upfront or even you press them for one.
That being said, maybe you have a few ideas on what caused your college rejection. For instance, you might know if your GPA and SAT or ACT scores were a little below the college’s average. Or maybe you already thought your college admissions essays weren’t as strong as you wanted them to be.
While it’s good to know how to improve yourself, don’t dwell on your mistakes. Go ahead and learn from what went wrong. For instance, maybe you felt rushed with your college essays, so next time you have an essay to write you’ll start the process earlier. But don’t beat yourself up about it.
And if you can’t figure out why you were rejected from college, stop trying to find the fault in yourself. Some colleges are so ultra-competitive they have to reject even rockstar applicants.
Getting stuck in the “what ifs” of your college rejection will only put you in a cycle of self-doubt. Please don’t do it!
3. Rewrite the narrative
Even after letting go of why your application was rejected, you might be struggling with how you see yourself in light of your college rejection. For some students, getting rejected from college is a major hit on their self-confidence.
Poor self-confidence is the last thing you need as you prepare to transition into college and adult life. That’s why it’s important to rewrite the narrative of your college admissions story.
If you catch yourself thinking, “I am a college reject” or “I’m not good enough for that school,” you need to rewrite those thoughts. Those negative self-statements will limit you and dim your potential.
Here are a few better ways to think and talk about your college rejection:
- That college wasn’t the right place for me.
- There’s no one “perfect” school for me.
- There are many other colleges where I can thrive and come into my own.
- I have a bright future ahead of me, no matter what.
- My life isn’t determined by where I go to college.
You write the story of your life. You can interpret your college rejection as the shutting down of your dreams, or you could see it as a redirecting of your path. Only you can make the choice.
4. Get excited about your remaining options
Once you’ve emotionally and mentally processed your college rejection, you can start looking forward to the future. What other options are still available to you? It’s time to get excited about them. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Review other colleges on your list
Maybe you have colleges you’re still waiting to hear back from. Or perhaps you were accepted to a few of your safety schools. Either way, research those colleges with fresh eyes to get as excited about them as you were about the college that denied you.
What did you love most about your dream school? Was it the location, a specific program, or the out-of-this-world cafeteria food? Identify your favorite things and see if your remaining college choices have comparable options. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
Transfer from a community college
I get this question from students every year. Can you reapply to a college after being rejected? The answer is, yes! And one way to reapply is by starting at your local community college and transferring.
If you focus hard on your studies and get involved in meaningful on-campus activities, you can increase your chances of getting accepted as a transfer student to the college that rejected you originally. In fact, many colleges have higher acceptance rates for transfers than for freshman applicants.
If you still have your heart set on attending your dream school, transferring is your chance to try again.
Apply to new colleges with rolling admissions deadlines
Let’s say you’ve been rejected to every college you applied to in the fall. Or maybe the ones you were accepted to are no longer good options due to price, location, or something else altogether.
If you’ve run out of college options, it’s not too late to find new ones. Many colleges with rolling admissions accept applications into the late spring or early summer. It may be frustrating to start your college application process all over again, but it’s completely worth it if you find colleges that are right for you.
5. Make a plan to get involved in college
Whatever college you attend, even if it wasn’t your top choice originally, it’s important to make the most of your experience. And that starts before you even get there. You can make a plan now about what activities, clubs, and groups you want to get involved in as a college student.
You could learn about the college’s different clubs or organizations that relate to the hobbies and passions you pursued in high school. Or maybe you have some new interests you’d like to explore. So you can browse through all the student life options to see what catches your eye.
I always encourage new college students to join groups and societies to build a supportive college community. After all, having a strong sense of community belonging is one of the top factors that increases student persistence through college to graduation.
The best way to ensure you’ll get involved is to make a plan early. Of course, you might change your mind once the semester starts. Maybe you’ll discover a different club or activity that’s perfect for you. But you’ll be focused on getting engaged in college, which will help you have a memorable student experience.
Remember, you determine what your college experience will be like and how it’ll set you up for a bright and successful future—no matter what school you attend.
Final thoughts about dealing with college rejection
Getting rejected from college is hard. There’s no way around that. But if you use these five steps to deal with your college rejection, you’ll land on your feet, look hopefully to the future, and create a meaningful college experience for yourself.
You’ve heard my thoughts as a virtual college planning consultant. But what about you? What has been your experience with college rejection and moving through these steps? Drop a comment below!