What If You Get Rejected from the School of Your Dreams

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a student studying beside a glass window

What to Do If You Don’t Get Accepted to the School of Your Dreams

You’ve been thinking about the college you’ll attend since you were still in elementary school. You’ve imagined your life as a college student, walking through its busy halls, participating in its clubs, and making your impact one three-hour class at a time. Your life as a college student hasn’t yet begun. The college admissions process is the only thing standing in your way. Read on about coping with getting rejected from your dream school.

You compile your materials with care, taking time to highlight the parts of your life that mesh so well with the school. The robot you coded and won a robotics competition fits perfectly with their engineering departments class offerings.

The test scores you submit are well-above their median test scores. Your letters of recommendation are glowing and effusive and repeat your hope of attending your dream school.

View of a young man talking to two unidentified people.

You send off your materials on time, and you wait anxiously. Checking your email every second, refreshing again and again. Double-checking your application status to be sure everything was received. Already picking out the dorm where you’ll live and the classes you’ll pick in your first year.

Then finally, after weeks of waiting, you receive your admissions letter. The first few words flow by and your confidence plummets. Your heart beats then stops. Your stomach starts to hurt, and you have to close your eyes not to see what’s written.

If you’re a crier, getting rejected from your dream school can inspire a meltdown of epic proportions. Not getting into the school of your choice can seem like your hopes and dreams have been crushed and permanently destroyed.

Luckily, this is almost never the case. While it can be disappointing and even painful, you can turn your rejection into a redirection and adapt to the new situation with even greater purpose.

If you’ve recently experienced getting rejected from your dream school, here’s how to handle rejection and what to do after getting rejected.

Picking your Dream School

Students go through quite a process to identify which schools they will apply to. The decision might be based on parental allegiance, sports team enthusiasm, academic program interests, professors or instructor’s work, or some other equally plausible reason. The college list students come up with might feature more than just their dream school though, including safe schools where they feel more likely to be admitted.

The most common reason a student wants to attend a school is because it was attended by their parents or other family members in the past. Their parents may want them to take advantage of legacy admissions and enroll in their alma mater. It may even be a tradition among all the offspring of a family. Going to a school where other family members have gone can be an expected reality for many students.

a female student reading her college acceptance letter

You may have chosen a particular school because of its sports team and wanting to compete with a nationally recognized squad. You may have dreamed for years of cheering on their football teams from the stands or the sidelines as a cheerleader. It may have been your dream to compete on their award winning swim team. The athletic department of a school can be a great selling point for students interested in sports.

Other students are lured in by the availability of specific academic programs. Students interested in theater and dance may hone in on the school with an exceptional acting and dance program. If your passion is business, then attending the top rated or most connected business school would be a dream come true. If it’s engineering and research opportunities, schools known for these programs will be high on your list.

Perhaps you picked a school because of a particular professor. You’ve spent years following their research, reading their articles, and watching every interview and conference they’ve attended. This kind of devotion would be even further idealized with getting to attend classes from a beloved professor. The faculty employed at a school is another reason students pick a school as their dream.

Of all the reasons students may have, getting rejected from your dream school poses a threat to your entire worldview. This is especially true if you’ve already started planning where you will live and what other activities you’d like to try. The attachment to a particular school can be fuel to keep you going during the college application process, so figuring out how to handle rejection will help you get over the disappointment.

Understanding the college admission process

The first step toward figuring out what to do after getting rejected is to be sure you understand college admissions and how these decisions are made. Each student submits their application materials to the schools of their choice.

Those application materials are received and sorted into files that will be reviewed by an admissions team. The admissions teams evaluate all student application materials in several different rounds to narrow all the applicants down into a certain number of admissions slots. The students who are not admitted receive rejection letters.

a female student looking at the camera smiling

Each admissions team uses different processes of evaluation when reviewing student applications. Most schools take a holistic approach and view all materials equally, so that no specific part of the application is more important. Even in the best of circumstances, the number of students who apply for admissions will far exceed the number of available spots each school can offer.

At the most selective schools, 95 percent of applicants are rejected. At state universities, the rate of rejection might be closer to 80 percent of applicants. At most schools, more than 50 percent of applications receive rejection letters. You are not alone, and this is not the only time you will be rejected.

Students have to do a good job of targeting their dream schools, compiling their materials, and presenting their application in a way that is tailored to the type of student the school wants to admit. Despite the best of intentions and the most well-crafted applications, students may still face rejection from their dream school. This can be disheartening, but is also a reflection of the real world and applying for professional jobs. For every job offer made, there are a number of other applicants who will not get the position.

Getting rejected from your dream school may feel like the end of the world, or at least the end of an important worldview. By keeping the odds of admission in perspective, you can start to alleviate some of your distress at what feels like a failure.

Getting Rejection Letters

Most schools send a form rejection letter. It is a standard template that every rejected student receives. The letter may be mailed, sent via email, or provided through the school’s admissions portal. The letter will not usually provide the student with any explanation. It will contain standard phrases acknowledging the student’s hard work while notifying them of the decision.

A college freshman unpacking her stuff as she moves in to her UPenn dorm room

You might have heard terms like “we regret to inform you” and “despite your stellar academic record.” Other schools might send a more personalized letter that informs of the positive aspects of your application and gives you tips for improving for another round of applications later.

The rejection letter is iconic in popular culture with so many movies featuring that frantic moment when an applicant rips open their letters one after the other with increasing excitement or growing dejection.

The student who was admitted jumps up and down while squealing and bouncing around. The student who gets rejected slumps with disappointment, crying, becoming depressed, and working up the courage to tell their parents. These experiences are common enough to become reflected in movies and TV shows.

A rejection letter might not spell complete defeat. Schools often put students on wait lists or ask them to reapply the following year. Being rejected from the school of your dreams does not have to be a complete rejection of your dreams.

Backup Schools

Once you’ve received a rejection letter, you turn next to your backup schools. While not your dream school, back up schools still give you options and alternatives. Getting rejected from your dream school doesn’t mean that you’ll receive more rejections from the other schools you applied to. This is why admissions expert consultants, like AdmissionSight, recommend students apply to multiple schools during their admissions process.

two females sit across a table; the one in facing the camera is conducting a college interview with the other female

Applying to multiple schools gives students back up options in the event you have to figure out what to do after getting rejected. Your dream school might be further away from your reality, but the other schools where you are accepted are equally viable options to choose from.

You may have to work on changing your mind and accepting the decision, but getting into another school with the same programs and opportunities might end up being better for you than you had originally imagined.

If you don’t get into any of your schools, then there are still options you have to move on and redirect your life.

Tips to move on

How you handle the rejection from your dream school will determine your future. To move on and get over the disappointment, there are specific things you can do, besides looking to your backup schools.

1. Backpack trip/Road trip

There is something positive to be said about finally being finished with college applications. Putting the situation behind you temporarily can be a great way to get even more perspective and plan your next move. Grab your closest, trusted friends and hit the road.

A backpacking trip or road trip through your favorite destinations might be just what you need to start processing and moving beyond getting rejected from your dream school. You can always take a dream trip or vacation as consolation.

If you want to save money, a backpacking trip can minimize expenses. If you’ve got money from your parents or a job to splurge, consider going no-expense spared and live it up in your favorite resorts with excursions. Whatever you enjoy, consider adding a vacation to explore and experience your favorite places. A trip can remind you of other things that bring you joy and inspire your ideas for the future.

2. Take a Year Off

Taking some time off after college is a popular option. This gives you some time and distance between the end of high school and your next chapter. During that year off, you can get a better sense of your life’s goals, what you really want to do, and how you  might reach your goals. During that time off, you can spend it relaxing and reconnecting with yourself. You can also ramp it up by taking some classes at a local community college or figure out alternative certification programs.

3. Attend Community College

If you didn’t get into your dream school, attending a local community college opens up additional options you may not have already considered. Taking a few classes at a community college or even earning an associate’s degree can be just the motivation you need to reapply to your dream school as a transfer student. Doing this often ends up saving families money in the long term.

4. Enroll in Certification Programs

What if you realize that you’ve always loved doing hair and makeup? Maybe you completely shift your plans and goals to follow your passions and get a certification instead. Trade and union schools are always an alternative to pursuing post-secondary education at a university or college. Certification programs can even get you started with your career much sooner. Getting rejected might help you to realize that there is a different path you are meant to follow.

 5. Transfer from Another School

If you weren’t admitted into your dream school, but you did receive admission to a backup school, transferring might help you secure a spot at a later date. Students may spend one to two years at a different school to gain college level experience before reapplying. Transfer applicants undergo a different process that allows students to further reflect their interest and performance levels after some time at an another college.

6. Work at Entry-Level Jobs

It can never hurt a student to begin working full-time after graduation. Many entry level jobs require only a high school diploma. You can gain professional experience and start building your resume. This can provide a boost to future educational plans or help with developing new life goals entirely. Starting to work full-time will give students real-world experience as a professional and further grow their skills and talents.

Being Adaptable

Beyond simply getting into your dream school, being able to adapt is the harbinger of being successful. You will always be faced with losses and the need to shift gears and move in a different direction. Being able to understand the environment and change your mind can be the difference between moving on gracefully and getting stuck.

Real World Examples of Life After College Rejection

Still struggling with getting rejected from your dream school? It can be helpful to read about the experiences of other graduating seniors to learn how they handled rejection.


A twelfth grade student from Texas had their hopes set on attending the University of Pennsylvania. Jonathan had planned meticulously including taking classes over the summer to graduate a year early and applying early decision. He was confident and assured. When he received a rejection letter, he became withdrawn and insecure. All of his confidence vanished.

Despite not getting into his dream school with the goal of pursuing medical school, Jonathan decided to work for his family’s restaurant and work an internship for a year. The internship gave him experience in the healthcare setting, which helped him realize how passionate he was about pursuing medical school. Jonathan was encouraged to reapply the following application year, and to his surprise, he was admitted. Waiting a year helped Jonathan remember his passion and try again with more experience to his credit.


A senior in California had their future plans at UCLA all planned out. Alexis had been dancing since she was 2 years old. She’d competed and won in competitions, taught dance workshops, and been invited to advanced dance clinics. Alexis knew she had a good chance of getting into UCLA’s dance program. When she was rejected from the program but admitted to the university, she felt crushed and deflated. She stopped dancing for a few months thinking she’d have to shift her major to something like finance or accounting.

While Alexis was trying to decide, she was recommended to apply to several dance companies. She flew to several cities around the U.S. to audition. The process was even more stringent than the college admissions process. Alexis was overjoyed to learn she was hired by two dance companies. She was able to choose the better fit and finally become a professional dancer. The rejection helped Alexis realize her ultimate dream.


A graduating student living in New York was headed for Columbia University, or so they thought. From birth, Frankie had been been primed to attend the Ivy League. They had a stellar academic record with all AP classes, high test scores, and several leadership positions in her high school’s student government, debate club, and yearbook.

They had gone on several trips to Columbia and already imagined themself at the school. They knew what major and minor they would work toward and what programs they wanted to participate in.

After getting rejected from their dream school, Frankie made a complete about face. They devoted their time to developing a business and becoming an entrepreneur. With help from family, they were able to start several companies and make impressive revenues within five-years of being in operation. The rejection was a wake-up call to the talents Frankie already possessed.

AdmissionSight’s College Admissions Experts

Whatever kind of student you are, AdmissionSight wants to help you secure enrollment at your dream school. Having a college admissions expert consulting increases the chances of your application with intentional strategy. We are purposeful and knowledgeable in the application process and can help minimize the chances of your application getting rejected. Let us help guide your college admission application process.




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