How to deal with college rejections

REJECTED: “After careful review of your application for admission, we regret to inform you…” UCLA

Eden Havel | Head editor & Newsroom manager

March 19, 2024

As college decisions begin to trickle in one by one, this season is filled with anxiety, excitement, and big dreams fueled solely by helpless hoping. We have been working tirelessly for the past four years to compile it all together—all of the lessons learned, all the character developed, all of the ambitions and dreams we can verbalize at still such a young age. Then we did it. We took a deep breath, crossed our fingers, and clicked submit. March has finally arrived, and seniors across the country are beginning to receive the thing they’ve most desired for the past six months: answers.

While some of these answers are exciting, relieving, a resounding yes…inevitably, some of these answers are somewhat discouraging, to say the least. So what do we do when one of those decision letters doesn’t immediately sparkle with confetti? When the word “congratulations” doesn’t immediately stand out? As we stare blankly, processing the fact that we’ve just been rejected, determining the next steps can be challenging and confusing. So here is a guide, one that can (but hopefully won’t need to) come in handy should you endure the thing you’ve been most stressed about for the past two years.

Dealing with college rejections

  • Explaining to your family that you got rejected from your dream school

After a moment where a piece of your heart dies alongside the wishes and desires you’d fostered for years, you realize that it will be you who has to break the news to your family. This can be a difficult task, especially when they’re all wearing merch from your top school and have spent weeks telling you that they “have a good feeling about this one.” So once you shakily deliver a nonchalant, “I got rejected” and force a little laugh, don’t be surprised if they think you’re joking. They are expecting an enthusiastic, “Just kidding!” and click of a remote to an invisible boom box that starts playing “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang.

They will protest, experiencing their own wave of emotions as you continue to assure them that you’re not joking. Then they’ll force you to re-input your application ID to show them the actual letter, because they “don’t believe it,” so now you have to look at the whole thing again. And finally, all of you will be on the same page. Though this is sad, and obviously the opposite situation you’d been hoping for, your whole family will be suspiciously nice to you for the next approximately three days. So use this as an opportunity to request the food, clothes, and back massages you need. An excuse like this doesn’t last long, and hopefully, will not be useful again.

  • Explaining to your friends that you got rejected from the school you all hoped to go to together

Yes, I know you had friends who wanted to go to university with you. And the two of you would talk for months about nothing except the way you’d decorate your dorm, and the long nights you’d spend listening to Taylor Swift, and all the concerts you’d see together, and the way you’d get breakfast together before class, and how you’d work together at the coffee shop down the street. But now you have to send the text. The dreaded, all-lowercase: “omg i got rejected lol”. And yes it’s horrible, but you secretly feel relieved when they say “same lol” and now you can mourn together. But don’t fret! The two of you still have other options. Even if it’s not the top school, more decisions are coming in! Within 48 hours, the two of you will be praying about the next best thing, feeling just slightly more broken.

But maybe hold off for now on comparing yourselves to Rory and Paris from Gilmore Girls. Or Blair and Serena from Gossip Girl. Or Rachel and Monica from Friends. Or Oprah and Gayle.

  • Emailing your college counselor with the subject: “Update! (Not great)”

When emailing your college counselor, whom your family has paid a good penny to get you into the college you were just rejected from, keep it brief and optimistic! This email is not a journal entry, and to avoid confusion, I’d encourage you to grieve in your diary before sending an email to your counselor. Try not to use too many exclamation points after phrases like “but it’s okay!!!!!!” or “…just like Zooey Deschanel!!!!!!” or “In the words of Buddha, when the time is right, it will happen!!!!!!”

They will likely respond promptly, explaining that their company gets students into that particular college every year, and they are shocked that you didn’t get in. But just like you, your counselor will remain optimistic; and encourage you about your chances of getting into schools that are way more selective than the one you just got rejected from. Let this be a bonding moment for the two of you over your shared anxieties as you both separately ponder if it would have been better for you to submit the SAT.

APPLICATION DECISIONS: staying afloat in the uncertainty of our futures. InternationalSchoolofBoston
  • Going on a drive to look at the sunset and rethink your purpose

This is not the time to stop listening to Kelly Clarkson just because you were rejected from one school. Those sunset drives and moments of solitude as you drive down PCH are extremely important, especially now. This is your time to redeem your inner strength! To get a burger and sit at Top of the World and question who you really are. Yes, you were rejected. And by now, you’ve processed that. You’ve come to the understanding that what is meant to be will be, and you are determined to have a good attitude. But if nothing else, a season like this offers you at least an opportunity to exercise one of the most challenging practices in life: patience. So be in the moment, embrace the process, trust your path, and eat your french fries sweetie.

  • On to the next/Praying

As you wait for the rest of your college decisions to come in, it’s important to remain open. You will have to go to school the following week and encounter your peers who did get into your dream school, and you will politely say, “I’m so happy for you! Are you planning on going?” and they will roll their eyes and say, “No I don’t think so, it was just a safety.” But don’t let it bother you. Your time will come. In one year, you will be at whatever school you choose (or you will be camping in Sweden), looking back with a giggle. Let yourself move on! It will be fine. You will be fine.

So keep going. Keep hoping with your friends, keep that “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang on cue, keep your counselor on speed dial, and keep those sunset drives coming. Life is fleeting and in moments like these, beauty and growth blossom in the chaos. (Say that in your next email to your counselor.)

Good luck, Tritons. Stay strong, stay proud, and stay hopeful. We’ve all got this.

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