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Dealing with Rejection or Deferral From a College

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Many college applicants are rejected or deferred from their top choices each year. Some colleges simply have many more qualified applicants than available spaces. This lesson explores how students and counselors can deal with rejection or deferral.

Dealing with Rejection

'I've been rejected and I'm still fabulous' begins a blog post by Anne Paik, a former student blogger for the New York Times. In fact, Paik was rejected by 11 of the 15 colleges to which she applied. However, because she understood the college admissions process, she was prepared to handle rejections and still have a successful college career--and so can any qualified student.

The United States has over 4,000 colleges. Some schools, like Stanford and Harvard, have acceptance rates around only 5 percent, meaning only 5 out of every 100 applicants is accepted. Others, like Boston Architectural College and University of Texas at El Paso, accept nearly 100% of their applicants. What does this mean for the student? There is a likelihood that applicants will be rejected by, or denied admission to, their top college choices, but there are plenty of college options available for them.

Adding to the probability of rejection is the common practice of high school guidance counselors suggesting that seniors apply to at least one reach college. This is a 'dream college', which the applicant would very much like to attend but has a low probability of being accepted. Although the dream occasionally comes true, the majority of students are rejected from their reach college choices, meaning most college applicants can expect at least one rejection. Other rejections sometimes come as a surprise, and are the result of an increasingly complicated and competitive college admissions process.

Whether expected or surprised by rejection and regardless of the reason, it still can sting. Experts have suggestions for students dealing with rejection. It's important to know the following:

  • You are in good company.
  • The decisions aren't intended to be personal.
  • It's natural to be disappointed.
  • It's helpful to seek the comfort of friends and family who have been through rejection.
  • Rejection does not mean you are not qualified.
  • Many colleges have a greater number of qualified applicants than they can accept.
  • Other schools will value you.

Dealing with Deferral

One step better than a rejection is a deferral. Students should think of deferral as a 'maybe'. Sometimes early admission college applicants are neither accepted nor rejected. Instead, the applicants are held until the general application deadline has passed. Deferred applicants can typically expect a final decision the same time as the general applicants.

Deferral is similar to waitlisting, but they are not the same thing. When an applicant is waitlisted, that applicant will be admitted only if space becomes available - as admitted students decline their offers.

Deferral and waitlisting commonly mean the applicant is qualified for admission at the school. There is a chance the applicant will be admitted. However, the college may or may not have space available for that applicant. The college is choosing to admit other students first.

With deferrals, sometimes the college would like to see further information before making a final decision, such as the applicant's first semester grades from his or her senior year. The college typically wants to compare the deferred applicant with the general admission applicants. Though the deferred applicant may be admitted, it's important to note that deferred applicants rarely receive merit-based financial aid.

Experts have suggestions for dealing with deferral. It's important for students to do the following:

  • Politely let the college know you are still interested, but do not contact the college too often.
  • Improve grades (and possibly test scores) for mid-year reports.
  • Update the college with any new honors and awards.
  • Send letters of recommendation from senior teachers.

Guidance counselors should meet with deferred students to:

  • Identify ways in which they can strengthen their applications before general admission deadlines.
  • Identify other colleges for the student to apply to.

The Guidance Counselor's Role

Let's take a look at other ways a guidance counselor can assist students who have been rejected or deferred. Even when students are rejected or deferred from all of their choices, they still have options. It's important to let these students know they are still in the game. This is not the end of the college application process.

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