Dealing With Rejection: Why Not Getting into Your First Choice School Isn't the Apocalypse

What to Say and How to Deal

By the time second semester of senior year rolls around, it seems like every conversation revolves around college applications. Peers you barely speak to take a sudden interest in which schools you’ve heard from, and random neighbors are eager to hear about your plans for next year. Simply put, your college applications are nobody else’s business and retelling your tales of rejection to mere acquaintances is like adding unnecessary salt to an open wound.

In order to avoid this conversation, don’t tell people where you applied and refrain from engaging in specific college discussions altogether. “Instead of asking people where they applied to college, let them wait to tell you where they got in. If you let them volunteer the information themselves, they’re more likely to do the same for you,” Feldman says. Abijike used this tactic, and says, “it did cause some problems, but fewer problems than if  [other people] knew where I applied.” However, if someone does ask you about a specific school, you can always tell them you want to commit to a school before you reveal where you got in. Or you can take a more humorous approach and say something like, “I haven’t heard from any colleges because I rescinded all of my applications after deciding I want to go to clown school.” Firing back a ridiculous comment like this (no offense to any professional clowns reading this) will give you just enough time to walk away from the situation, leaving the confused busy-body in the dust.

Another option is to reply honestly, but with a positive outlook. “Figure out how you feel at the moment and then think about how you hope to feel about it in the future. After you do this, you can admit to someone that you are disappointed you didn’t get in, but also realize that you have to be flexible with the process and you are now focusing on being in the present. This type of response will prevent negative feelings from resurfacing,” Feldman says.

Don’t Get Caught Up in the Name Game

The college application process often follows the same social pattern of high school. Every year there are a few schools that are more desirable than others—and for no particular reason. When I was a senior, it felt like everyone from my school wanted to go to Stanford, and the year before me, over twenty percent of the grade applied to USC. Now don’t get me wrong—these are both excellent schools, but there are hundreds of prestigious universities. At the end of the day, do you really want to determine where you spend the next four years of your life based on a silly popularity contest? University of Pittsburgh student Jordan Grier says, “I went to a very competitive high school, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to get into certain schools just to impress my community.” Choosing the right college is an incredibly personal experience and since there are nearly four thousand colleges in the United States, there are plenty of amazing, lesser-known schools. It’s up to you to determine a school’s worth based on criteria that fit for your needs, not how popular it is at your specific high school.

Embrace Your Individuality

Every day, it seems like someone is talking about how they did on the SATs and which schools they got into. Our natural inclination is to instantly compare ourselves with our classmates, but doing so will only intensify an already stressful experience. “My friends definitely made me feel pressured, especially when comparing SAT scores,” says Emerson College student and HC blogger Cassidy Brettler.

While playing the comparison game is certainly tempting, it is also completely useless. It is often impossible to figure out how the admissions committee chooses one candidate over the other, and worrying about it won’t change the end result. Restrict any specific college discussions to your closest confidants (parents or close friends) and focus on neutral topics, like excitement about senior prom and the pitfalls of senioritis with everyone else.

It’s All About the Journey—Not the Specific DestinationEven if you are not exactly sure which school you are going to, you can still get excited about your future in college. Regardless of where a school is located or how big it is, there are variety of clubs and resources available on most college campuses.  Make a list of all the opportunities you are looking forward to next year. This can be anything from reporting for the college TV station to late night pizza parties with your friends. Boston University student and HC intern Maddie Bourque was upset and angry when she was rejected from her first choice school, but has had a fantastic college experience. “You'll be happy no matter which school you end up at! The friends you meet, and the things you get involved with are more important!”

As the college letters begin to pour in, remember that the college you choose will not define your identity. Elitzky often reminds her students the following: “You haven't gotten this far by luck, and there isn’t one school that is going to decide who you are and who you will become. You will continue to have all the talents that have brought you success, and you will take those talents with you wherever you go.”

So if you’ve gotten one, or even a few, rejection letters--don’t sweat it! Remember to stay confident in yourself, stay positive about the future, and stay focused on the belief that your hard work will serve you well in the end. Get ready pre-collegiettes…you’re about to enter a new arena full of crazy experiences, amazing opportunities, and endless possibilities—regardless of which college you choose!  

Karen Elitzky, College Counselor at La Jolla Country Day School
April Feldman, MSW
Ajibike Lapite, Princeton University
Brittany Lewis, Boston College
Laura Hoxworth, UNC-Chapel Hill
Jordan Grier, University of Pittsburgh
Cassidy Brettler, Emerson College
Maddie Borque, Boston University