You’ve done your research, bought the sweatshirt and envisioned yourself waltzing across the campus dozens of times. And then it arrives: the dreaded rejection letter. Within a matter of seconds, the sickeningly thin envelope or disappointingly short email crushes your dreams in a single paragraph. But while it might feel like the apocalypse right now, being rejected from your top school can be a positive experience. Read on for tips on how to handle college rejection, and to understand why some collegiettes are now thankful they didn’t get into their top choices.
Let Yourself Grieve
There’s no doubt that not getting into your top choice is disappointing. You worked hard, studied tirelessly, and suddenly you feel like you did it all for nothing. While this obviously isn’t true, we’ll get to that later. For now, break out the Ben and Jerry’s, turn on your favorite rom-com, and allow yourself to wallow a little. Manhattan-based Psychoanalyst, April Feldman, says letting the tears flow freely is much healthier and will actually help you get over your disappointment much quicker than if you suppress it. ”I know it sounds corny, but we all have an emotional refrigerator. If you put your feelings into the fridge and don’t deal with them, they will just get more rotten over time and never really go away. Instead, allow yourself to fully experience your emotions and then after a bit, you will be able to move on,” she says. But while you should definitely indulge in a little relaxation, make sure to stay on top of your schoolwork and not completely zone out. Being productive can be a great confidence booster, and according to CollegeBoard.com, colleges reserve the right to view students’ grades and revoke their acceptance until high school graduation!
Remember It’s Not Personal
When we get a rejection letter, our first reaction is to take it personally. But each application is just one of thousands, and there are many factors taken into consideration that have nothing to do with your abilities. Colleges are trying to create a class made up of students with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, career and athletic interests, and geographic locations. Therefore, students often get rejected from a college based on their city, state, ethnicity, major, extracurriculars, volunteer work, or any other aspect of their application, rather than their GPA. Moreover, it is impossible to truly evaluate a person without knowing the person, especially when many students look practically identical on paper.
Karen Elitzky, a college counselor at La Jolla Country Day School, says “There are brilliant kids at the top of their class who get rejected from schools. No one gets in everywhere,” she says. And remember that just because you were rejected by one school, doesn’t mean you won’t get in to your other choices. “Getting rejected from Princeton and Columbia [my top choice] on the same day was really upsetting. But the next day, I got my acceptance letter from Boston College. I cried when I opened it and looking back, it has been the best school for me,” says Boston College senior and HC Campus Correspondent, Brittany Lewis. You’re likely to have applied to a variety of schools and will get into some of them. The waiting game can definitely be grueling, but remind yourself of how hard you worked on your application and remember that every admissions committee is different. One university’s decision will not dictate your entire college future!
It’s tempting to hype up your top school and put it on a pedestal so high that no other college can compete with it. But take a step back and consider why you wanted to go there in the first place. Did you love the location of the campus? Does the school offer a top program in your chosen career path? Chances are, at least some of the qualities that attracted you to that specific school also exist in the other schools you applied to.
Ajibike Lapite fell in love with Harvard University at the ripe age of nine and was heartbroken when she received her rejection letter. But after just one semester at Princeton, she says she’s thankful she didn’t get into Harvard. “I’m extremely happy and have realized that not getting into my ‘top choice’ was a good thing.” Brittany agrees and says you do not have to rely on one specific school to have a positive college experience. “Regardless of where you go, college is about finding a place to grow, learn, and find (or at least start to find) what you love.”
If you have received acceptance letters to other colleges, create a list outlining all of the things you love about the schools you did get into. Reminding yourself about the other amazing choices out there will help you realize that you won’t only survive, but actually thrive at a different school. Laura Hoxworth, HC Contributing Writer and student at UNC-Chapel Hill, says she was devastated when she didn’t get in to the University of Virginia
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
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