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How to Bounce Back from a College Denial

You’ve always known you would go to State U. Your parents both went to State U. Your sister is going to State U.  You grew up tailgating and attending football games at State U.  When it came your time for you to apply to college, you eagerly applied Early Decision to State U. Why would you apply anywhere else?  

You eagerly check your email daily for the acceptance notification.  Your heart skips a beat when you finally see an email from State U.  Your palms are sweaty and your stomach is in knots as you click it open.  Denial!  What?!  How can that be?   

This news is a huge punch in the gut.  So what do you do now?  Take some time to collect yourself.  This is a big disappointment.  You’re embarrassed,devastated, crushed - this was your dream for as long as you can remember, so taking a few days to compose yourself and wrap your head around your new reality of not going to State U is totally acceptable.

But don’t stay there.  Don’t stay in your room, curled up in a ball thinking that your future is ruined.  It. Is. Not.  There are many paths forward from this point.  

  • First and foremost, reframe the messages that you are telling yourself.  Your thoughts dictate your reactions and your emotions.  And guess what?  You have complete control over your thoughts.  If you repeat the internal message that “I’m a failure,” or “why should I bother applying anywhere,” you get to own those responses. You will be stuck in a negative thought cycle that will create a depressive mood and most likely no positive action forward. If instead you flip your internal script to something like “I’m disappointed that I didn’t get into State U, but there are many other great schools.”  Tell yourself “I will bounce back from this,” “I have my whole future ahead of me,” or “This is just a blip.”  Then take positive steps forward.

  • Engage in a new college search.  Most Regular Decision application deadlines are in January and February.  If you applied and were denied for Early Decision or Early Action, you most likely will have time to submit applications to a number of schools by their regular deadline.  Also, many schools have rolling admission, which means that the deadline is much more flexible and will give you many more months to apply.  Our biggest suggestion to our clients is to always apply to a number of different schools - even if your heart is set on only one.  We recommend six to eight schools with a variation of competitiveness, meaning that you have some “likely,” some “possible” and some “reach.”  This way, a denial will not be so devastating.  You will have a backup plan.

  • Were you deferred enrollment or waitlisted?  What is the difference?  If you applied Early Decision or Early Action and received notification of your application being “deferred,” it simply means that your application was not accepted at this early stage, but is now being considered alongside the Regular Decision pool of applicants.  A response of “waitlisted” is just like it sounds - you are being placed on a waiting list.  You are not accepted or denied in either of these circumstances.  So there is still hope.  What you want to do is follow your institution’s instructions, such as responding to let them know you would like to be on the waitlist.  Sending a letter of continued interest that includes any new or recent accomplishments would be to your benefit as well.  You may even consider taking some test prep courses and re-taking the SAT or ACT to improve your chances.  If you are waitlisted, it is highly likely that you will not hear a decision prior to May 1.  Accepted students need to commit or decline by that deadline, which would open up slots for those on the waitlist.   In order to ensure enrollment somewhere come the Fall, you will need to commit to another school by the May 1 deadline, and then forfeit your deposit if you are then accepted to your first choice school.

  • Choose another school to attend. Who knows, you may find that you love it somewhere else. You might meet your tribe and make lifelong friends. You might completely click with your professors and love your courses. Your dorm, food, campus, and activities could be a perfect fit for you, a fit that you might never have discovered if not for that denial to State U. And referring back to the first bullet point - it’s all in how you frame your thoughts about this new chosen school. If you go into it with a closed mind, you are guaranteed to be miserable. But if you go with an open, positive mindset, who knows what may happen. 

  • Transfer to State U next year. If you have entered your second choice school with the above-mentioned positive mindset - you’ve given it the proverbial college try - and you are still unhappy and longing for State U, you can always apply next year as a transfer student. Sometimes having a successful year of college under your belt may help you secure your desired admission.

Life in general is filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, and occasionally, things don’t work out the way you thought they would.  It’s in these moments that your character will be tested.  You will either choose to let it defeat you, or you will choose to grow and become stronger from a disappointing experience.  Either way, the choice is yours.


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