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Moving Past the College Rejection Letter

Moving Past the College Rejection Letter

How to handle a college rejection letter.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

February 21, 2014

Warren Buffet. Meredith Vieira. Ted Turner. Tom Brokaw. Besides being very successful, these famous business moguls and television personalities have something else in common. They were rejected from their first choice colleges.

While you may think your rejection letter is signaling the end of the world, it’s not. Just consider it a speed bump in the admissions process and look forward to your next steps.

Set your sights elsewhere. Once you mentally process the rejection letter, you have two options: consider a different college or give up on the college dream – the latter being a sign that you’re majorly overreacting.

While your rejection letter may have come from your first or second choice, you have options in the other schools that you applied to. With your first choice off the list, you’ll approach these schools with a new perspective and might even discover that “College #1” was clouding your ability to see that your second or third choice was actually a better fit anyway.

If you only applied to one school – first off, shame on you – second, don’t panic. While colleges seem to have finite deadlines, that’s not necessarily the case. Many colleges don’t make their enrollment quota by May 1st, and there are still available spots. However, most colleges won’t be able to provide you with a definite admission decision until mid-May.

What do I do now? Contact the admission offices of your remaining choices and schedule a visit. Or call – do not email – the admissions office if you haven’t applied, and ask to speak directly with an officer about late applications.

Appeal the decision. An appeal isn’t sound advice for everyone. If there have been no significant changes in your application, grades, test scores, etc., then an appeal would be useless.

However, if your second semester is evidence of your commitment to studying harder or being more involved, then you may want to consider an appeal. It’s also advisable to appeal a rejection letter if you’ve received a noteworthy award – like Kiwanis Student of the Year or Most Improved Student.

What do I do now? Put together a formal letter explaining why your admission decision should be reevaluated. See example here. Supplement your own letter with a letter of recommendation from a teacher, coach or employer who can also attest to your big change.

Take a year off. If you believe in signs, maybe you took your rejection letter as one that you’re not quite ready for college. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, more and more students are beginning to take time off between high school and college anyway, calling it a “gap year.”

Popular in Europe, this alternative option is gaining ground in the U.S. Rather than immediately enrolling in college, students are opting to travel and learn abroad or take internships. Students who have participated in a gap year say that they’re more ready for college and even better prepared for real world responsibilities after their college graduation.

What do I do now? First, do some research and determine if this is the right move for you. We recommend reading “Taking Time Off” by Colin Hall and Ron Lieber. Get the book here. Next, research gap year programs. Third – not to mention most difficult – talk to your parents about your decision.

Transfer after two years. Just because your first choice college gave you a rejection letter this time doesn’t mean it will happen again. In fact, you’ll make a big statement to the admissions committee if you apply again in a year or two as a transfer student. Your application will say, “I’ve worked hard, and I haven’t given up on my dream to attend this school.”

Granted, you’ll have to perform very well at another four-year college or community college. Sometimes, stakes are even higher for transfer students. Aside from your obvious commitment, the admissions committee will want to see stellar grades, credits that will transfer easily and involvement in extracurricular and volunteer opportunities.

What do I do now? Let both schools know you’re considering a transfer after a year or two. Together, they can help you lay the groundwork necessary to take classes that will transfer easily from school to school. They’ll also provide you with a timeline to ensure a successful transfer experience.


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