Getting Rejected From College: What It Means and What You Can Do

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman looks at her laptop with a pained worried expression

Getting Rejected From College: What It Means and What You Can Do

Getting rejected from college hurts…a lot. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things to deal with as you’re graduating high school. After months and months of hard work preparing your application and years of putting your best foot forward both in and out of the classroom to improve your application, you’re told “not this time” by the college of your choice.

Within the blink of an eye, it feels as though all of the sweat and tears (well, hopefully just sweat) that you’ve put in have gone to waste. As dire as the situation might appear in the middle of it, the worst thing you can do is throw up your hands in defeat. Here, we’re going to take a look at what you should do after getting rejected from college.

The answer might surprise you, so make sure to read through carefully!

What does it mean to get rejected from college?

There are some important differences to cover before getting into the meat of the issue—namely, the difference between getting rejected from college and getting deferred admissions. Students who apply during Early Action or Early Decision might receive a deferral response from a university, meaning their application isn’t accepted or denied.

Instead, it’s going to get reconsidered during the standard application timeline. Rejection, on the other hand, is an outright denial of acceptance. In other words, it’s a “no, you’re not accepted into this university.” Yikes! That stings.

What are your chances of getting rejected from college?

Naturally, many students wonder what the likelihood is of receiving a rejection decision from a university. Obviously, this depends on a variety of factors including the selectivity of the college to which you’re applying, the talent pool of incoming applicants, the strength of your application, and the specifics admissions officers are looking for when reviewing applications.

You can gain a rough understanding of your chances of getting rejected from college by looking at a school’s acceptance rate. The more difficult the school, the lower the admission rate and the higher chances of getting rejected. Below, we’ve outlined the acceptance rates of the top 25 universities in the country.

School Acceptance Rate
Princeton 4%
Harvard 4%
Columbia 4%
MIT 4%
Yale 5%
Stanford 4%
University of Chicago 6%
University of Pennsylvania 6%
Caltech 7%
Johns Hopkins 7%
Northwestern 7%
Duke 6%
Dartmouth 6%
Brown 5%
Vanderbilt 7%
Washington University in St. Louis 13%
Rice 9%
Cornell 9%
University of Notre Dame 15%
UCLA 14%
Emory 13%
UC Berkeley 17%
Georgetown 12%
University of Michigan 20%
Carnegie Mellon University 15%
University of Virginia 21%

*Based on US News Rankings 

So, what can you glean from this information? Well, on the face of it, your chances of getting accepted to these prestigious schools fluctuate between a selective 4% to an improved yet still competitive 21%. This means your chances of rejection to these schools hovers anywhere from 79% to 96%.

Ouch! Just when you thought acceptance rates were hard to accept, the rejection rates are even uglier. But there’s a silver lining in this dark cloud of rejection. These acceptance rates are highly, highly general. Keep in mind that the most important factor of all – you! – is left out of the equation when universities calculate acceptance rates.

The strength of your application plays a decisive role in determining your overall chances of acceptance…and, as a consequence, your odds of getting rejected from college. That’s why it’s crucial to focus on improving your application as much as possible to increase your chances of getting accepted to the school of your choice.

Nevertheless, the central point remains: the vast majority of applicants to highly competitive schools end up getting rejected.

What to keep in mind when getting rejected from college.

Finally receiving that highly anticipated letter from your top-choice school is an equally stressful and exciting stressful situation. All of your hard work has culminated at this moment and the long, anxiety-stricken wait is finally over. After tearing into the letter, you scour for the words “accepted,” “happy,” “congratulation,” or anything that might quickly affirm your hopes.

A mother holding her child's hand and giving support.

Instead of receiving the good news you had hoped for, you see the one word you didn’t want to see: rejected. Your heart sinks to the floor. Getting rejected from college, especially your dream school, is a tough situation to handle. But it’s critical to keep your head. Here are a few things you should keep in mind during this tough time.

You’re not alone.

Rejection from school can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness, as though you’re left out while everyone else is included. In reality, though, you’re in the majority. The vast majority of people get rejected from the schools to which they apply. It’s not the best news in the world, but it’s a reassurance that it’s not a complete reflection of your capabilities. Most applicants have to reapply or take a secondary school choice.

This isn’t the last time you’ll get rejected.

Rejection isn’t just something you experience when applying to college. It’s a harsh reality of life that you face in many areas of life, academically, professionally, socially, and personally. Wait, how is that a positive or reassuring point?

Well, it’s not meant to inspire you. Instead, it’s intended to add some perspective. This isn’t the end, just a momentary setback on your larger journey of life. Taking a step back for a second can help add some helpful insights.

You’ll have other chances.

Getting rejected from college is not an easy thing to accept. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you will have many more chances in the future. Whether you want to reapply to the school that rejected you or do you want to apply to other schools, this rejection isn’t going to define your academic or professional future. It’s simply a temporary setback on your path towards graduation.

What to do after getting rejected from college

You’ve been rejected from college, maybe even your dream school. Now what? It’s easy to feel like giving up at this point, but there are some things you can do to improve your situation.

A woman wearing glasses is sitting on a couch while looking outside.

Although it might not feel like it now, you are doing nothing that can hurt you more. Getting rejected from college is just another hiccup along your college admissions journey…and, boy, can it really feel like a journey. Try not to take it too heavily. Here, we’ll look at some actionable steps you can take to ensure your transition to college is as smooth and successful as possible.

1. Set aside time to accept the rejection.

Accepting a rejection sounds paradoxical, but it’s the first thing you need to do after getting rejected from college. Take the time you need to process the circumstances before diving right into the next steps. It’s perfectly understandable to feel a whirlwind of negative emotions ranging from disappointment and frustration to anger and confusion.

A girl holding a mobile phone, crying on the bed.

The best way to ensure these emotions don’t result in any rash actions is to sit with them for a little bit. Rejection is big news. It’s a lot to handle for anyone. So, give yourself ample time to recover.

Yes, it might sound a little melodramatic as there are bigger things going on in the world. But getting into college has been your primary focus for the past few months or even years. Here are some tips for dealing with college rejection in a constructive way.

  • Read college rejection stories from others online.
  • Vent with friends, family, or anyone who will lend you an ear.
  • Dramatically “rid” your rejection letter. (Trust us, it feels good.)
  • Dive headfirst into your favorite activity to distract yourself.

Although it’s important to give yourself time to process the rejection, you don’t want to wallow in self-pity for too long. You’ll run the risk of making the situation worse. After a few days or a week maximum, you should be back on your game ready to tackle the situation head-on.

2. Look at your other school choices.

Sure, your top school choice didn’t work out. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other great-fit colleges that you’ll end up falling in love with once you give them a chance. The key is to get yourself excited about these alternative choices. You’ve spent months or maybe even years hyping yourself up to attend your dream school.

It’ll take some adjusting to get pumped about another school, but it’s definitely an essential step in the process. You applied (hopefully) to more than one school just in case something like this happened. It’s now time to start getting excited about attending these potential schools.

Yes, we know, easier said than done. Start by thinking about what motivated you to apply to these schools in the first place. What did you like about the campus? What about the academic offerings that inspired you to apply? Was Greek life something that captured your attention?

If you can, talk with some current students at the college to gain some additional motivation to attend. It’ll be easier to imagine yourself at the university and distract you from your rejection. This might take some “faking it until you make it”, but it’s worth it in the end.

3. Consider taking a gap year and reapply the following season.

Gap years are controversial, to say the least. Some people swear by their merit, while others see it as a death sentence when it comes to getting into top colleges. In reality, the truth is somewhere in between. A gap year is truly what you make it. When done right, it can actually help improve your chances of getting accepted into your dream school the second time around.

A man lost in thoughts in front of his laptop.

So, how do you do a gap year, right? You have to do something productive during that period of time. Nobody expects you to cure a rare disease or come up with a new mathematical theory during that time, but you shouldn’t just hang around and watch TV all day. That won’t impress admissions officers…or your parents. Here are some productive ways to spend your gap year:

  • Participate in an internship related to your field of interest
  • Get a job and save up money to pay for college
  • Volunteer your time for a good cause
  • Explore various subjects through out-of-school clubs or activities
  • Travel abroad to learn a new language or expand your knowledge

The point of a gap year isn’t just to wait until you can reapply to your dream school. It’s also about buying yourself some time to improve your application, so your chances of getting admitted the second time around are higher. Admissions officers don’t have anything against gap years. They just want to make sure students are using them wisely.

When you do reapply to the same university, make sure to consult your old application. Don’t simply resubmit what you had before because it obviously didn’t work the first time around. Think about what mistakes you might have made.

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to request clarification on your rejection from the school so you know where your application went wrong and how you can improve it when you reapply.

4. Know that transferring is a possibility.

Just because you get rejected from your dream school doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to attending another college for the next four years. Transferring colleges is a viable option. It might take a few years, but it is possible to transfer to your top school.

Don’t get your hopes up too high, though. It’s important to keep in mind that the transfer application process is sometimes more competitive than the standard application process. That being said, it’s not advisable to attend another school with that as your only plan of action.

There’s a chance you might end up getting rejected for the transfer. It’s a fine possibility to keep in the back of your mind, but don’t make any rash decisions based on it. For example, attending a school, you don’t like at all because you think it might be easier to transfer from can cause you more disappointment and anguish than it’s worth.

5. Think about challenging the rejection.

Many applicants are surprised to find out that it’s possible to challenge a rejection. Just as it sounds, challenging a rejection decision is asking admissions officers to reconsider their choice based on potential errors that might have been made in the initial process.

Rubber stamp that says "Rejected."

Just like you can appeal a court decision in legal proceedings, colleges allow applicants to call into question the validity of rejections. So, why wouldn’t all students will get rejected immediately appeal the decision?

Well, you have to have a concrete reason for challenging a college rejection. You can’t simply appeal just because you didn’t get admitted into the school of your choice. That’s not a sufficient reason to request that admissions committees take a second look at your application.

Even if the school did agree to review your application, it’s unlikely that the decision will change if your only motivation for requesting the challenge was the rejection itself. In reality, you should only appeal or challenge a college rejection if you have significant and impactful information to add to the application or if you believe there was a serious issue with the application.

Maybe you were able to considerably improve your GPA or you scored significantly higher on your ACT or SAT. With regard to technical complications, some possible reasons to challenge a college rejection or misreported test scores, inaccurate high school transcripts, and missing documents that you were confident you submitted.

Accidents and mistakes happen. That’s why college and university admissions committees allow for rejection challenges. However, not all schools have an avenue for this appeal. This is especially true of prestigious schools such as Ivy League and Top 10 universities.

Furthermore, the vast majority of challenges are not overturned. Admissions officers tend to stick by their initial decisions unless you can point to an obvious mistake that wasn’t of your doing or you have a major change in your application that’s enough to sway the decision.

Not sure if you should appeal the decision? In most cases, it’s not worth the hassle. You’re usually better off investing that time and energy towards applying to other schools or preparing to reapply to the same school the following year.

Your specialized college admissions specialist is here to help!

AdmissionSight is a leading college entrance expert specializing in helping students just like you successfully prepare their applications to get into the school of their dreams. We offer a wide range of services specifically designed to help your application stand out from the crowd by catching the attention of admissions officers. If you’d like to learn more about what we do, feel free to contact us to set up a free consultation.






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