You Got a Rejection Letter from Your Dream College: Now What?
By Haley DeLeon | Last Updated: Mar 1, 2023
It’s that time of year — you’ve submitted your college applications and the admissions decisions are starting to arrive in the mail. You’re thrilled to see something has come in from your dream college — the one you’ve idolized since you started the application process, or even longer.
Unfortunately, that mail from your dream college isn’t a large packet — it’s just a small letter. Inside bears the bad news that you’ve been rejected.
After the initial shock and disappointment wear off, here are some steps you can take to make the most of being rejected from your dream college.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
It’s perfectly okay to take some time to grieve what could have been. Give yourself a moment to wallow in the disappointment and allow yourself the space to process what’s happened. You’re probably feeling angry, upset, and confused, which can be challenging to get over right away.
Instead of pushing your feelings down, pause and do whatever will help you feel better in the moment — hang out with friends, journal about it, or call a family member. Just don’t get wrapped up in your sadness for too long! And try not to let the rejection affect your grades, extracurricular activities, or other college applications (if you haven’t finished them all yet).
Don’t Take it Personally
After pouring loads of effort and late nights into your application, it can feel personal to receive a rejection letter from your dream school, even if it is, in fact, a templatized letter they have mass-mailed to innumerable students. Your rejection is the result of various factors from an admissions team looking to form a balanced incoming freshman class, not a personal indictment of your abilities. Try to keep things in perspective and remember it’s not personal.
Celebrate Your Acceptances
Another way to overcome your rejection woes is to celebrate the acceptances you have received. You should have applied to a selection of reach, match, and safety schools, so you’ll have a variety of admissions decisions to entertain. Even though you didn’t get into your dream school, any college acceptance is worth celebrating because it’s a reward for all your hard work.
Write a Letter of Appeal
If you can provide reasoning for your acceptance to the college they may not have seen in your initial application, consider writing a letter of appeal.
Before you write a letter of appeal, do your research. The appeals process can differ for every college — some may have a formal process, while others may not. After you determine your options, you should send your appeal letter quickly to demonstrate your eagerness and stay within their admissions deadlines as much as possible. Ask a teacher or counselor for help with your letter and a letter of recommendation to accompany it. They can help you craft a letter that includes your desire to gain admission, your particular interest in the college, your reason for appealing, and anything you’ve done since the original application.
Decide What Made It Your “Dream” School
What were the features that made that school your dream school? Was it a particular location or academic program? Put your thoughts and feelings on paper so you can enumerate the specific qualities that you love. You may realize that these are available at colleges you have been accepted to, or they are not as important as you thought they were. Either way, it will help you process your feelings and priorities.
Plan to Transfer
Although you haven’t been accepted to your dream school now, that doesn’t mean it’s completely ruled out for the future. Over 1.2 million students transfer to a different college every year. Many schools will accept transfer students based on certain academic requirements and other admission factors. Research whether your dream school accepts transfers, how often, and their transfer requirements so you can determine if this is a viable plan. You can call their admissions office to get more information.
Attend Community College
Another path to potentially attending your dream school in the future is attending a local community college with a plan to transfer after a few semesters. Community college can be a great option for students looking for lower costs and direct paths to a 4-year college. The classes also typically offer flexible scheduling, with night, weekend, and online classes, which can be useful if you want to work while going to school. Again, you should research the transfer student requirements and acceptance rate to determine whether this is viable.
Think About Taking a Gap Year
If you want more time to discover what kind of education you really want and what your interests are, consider taking a gap year. Get a job or internship, travel abroad, volunteer — there are many ways to make the most of a gap year. If a year passes and you still want to attend your dream college, you’ll have more unique experiences to add to your resume that can help distinguish your application the second time.
There are study abroad programs that allow students to start their college experience in a new and exciting environment. Verto Education, for example, allows students to start college abroad, earn college credits, and gain guaranteed admission to a selection of U.S. partner schools, such as USF. Seamester and Outward Bound are other programs that allow students to take advantage of a gap year and still earn college credits.
Go All in On Another School
Instead of enrolling in another college and continuing to pine away after your dream school, remember that the college experience is largely what you make of it. Take that list of qualities you loved about your dream school and see if you can find any of those traits in one of the colleges you’ve been accepted to.
It’s important to try to have an open mind. For example, suppose you really wanted to go to a small liberal arts school for its small class sizes. In that case, you may see if a larger university offers an honors college or other program with smaller classes and a close-knit community.
Talking to current students can also help you find out what those colleges are really like. This goes back to thinking about what’s important to you. You can better understand if another college may be a good fit by speaking with students and asking questions about your priorities.
Remember that you’ll most likely still be able to study what you want at other schools, as well.
Moving Forward from College Rejection
Getting rejected from your dream college is never easy. However, you can deal with that rejection letter by processing your feelings and then deciding the best course of action for you. Whether you choose to craft a plan to transfer in the future or embrace another college, you’ll have a path forward for your college journey. For more advice, check out our College Resources.
About Haley DeLeon
Haley DeLeon is a content developer with extensive experience in the higher education sector. She is passionate about creating content that helps students and their families throughout the admissions journey.