How to Handle Rejection in College Admissions

The following piece was written by Kofi Kankam. Kofi has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former admissions interviewer for The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the co-founder of Admit Advantage.

Well, I want to start by making it clear that not all acceptance letters from colleges come in large manila envelopes, so you shouldn’t be grief-stricken at the sight of what appears to be the dreaded denial letter. In fact, many colleges send a single acceptance letter followed by a larger envelope detailing next steps and early aid offers. And in some cases, the process may be completely electronic. That being said, suppose you do find yourself the recipient of the gut-wrenching, thanks-but-no-thanks letter?

The first thing, I am happy to report, is that life will in fact go on. Will you be upset? Likely. Will you be devastated? Possibly. Does the possibility still exist for you to go on to lead a happy, productive life? Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. And here is how you do it.

Foremost, understand and recognize that you are so much more significant than a college acceptance. The entire college application process can be anxiety-provoking and angst-ridden, leading you to a state of vulnerability you are likely experiencing for the first time. I liken it to that first day of kindergarten when you know no one and hope that just one person is compassionate and brave enough to inquire: do you want to be my friend? Isn’t this what we all pine for in our outreach efforts to the colleges to which we submit our applications? Here, you have recalled and recounted every important detail of your life for the past three years, desperately hoping that it is enough. I am here to tell you that it is. 

Hopefully, your college research and application process led you to discover that there isn’t just one school out there for you or one path for you to pursue. So, if you find yourself in the position of being denied admission to one of your top choices, here are some tips that may help you get through this rough patch:

  • Be open to acceptance letters that may be forthcoming. Do not allow yourself to be so distraught and jaded about one rejection letter that you miss out on opportunities that await you at other schools.
  • Consider a gap year. There is no golden rule that requires students to enter college directly after high school. Frankly, some students, for a variety of reasons, are not ready for college immediately following high school graduation. There are tons of programmatic offerings out there for students to pursue, from volunteering to traveling – and using the downtime to perhaps work, earn extra money for college, and devise a plan for applying to schools that will optimally meet their needs.
  • Yes, there is a primetime network television show that pokes fun at community college, but many such institutions have a plentitude of courses that could essentially serve two functions: get you a feel for the kind of material you’d like to study once you matriculate at a four-year institution, and potentially earn credits that are transferable to many four-year schools.
  • When all else fails, transfer. So, you have opened your mind to the possibilities that exist beyond your dream school and committed to attending another college only to find that you’re miserable there. Once you’re sure you’ve given the school a fair shot (and not merely set the expectation of misery only to meet it), you should thoughtfully go about researching and investigating other schools that may be a good fit. The advantage that you’ll have this time around is that you will already have one collegiate experience under your belt. You should use this experience as the basis for conducting a thorough assessment of why you were unable to find and create happiness on that campus. If you don’t, you will truly be doing yourself a disservice and may end up navigating similar waters at a different university.

If you are reading this posting, it is likely that things didn’t turn out as you had hoped, and you have my full sympathy. However, I hope you feel some sense of comfort in knowing that you share this space with the likes of Ted Turner, Warren Buffet, and Tom Brokaw, all of whom were also the recipients of small envelopes and ultimately went on to thrive in their respective lives.     


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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.