How to Handle Not Getting Into Your Dream School


Getting rejected from your dream school can be a devastating experience for any prospective college student. You just need to know how to process the situation and keep moving forward. While rejection is tough, you can regroup and find new dreams in college and life.

When Dreams Don't Come True

If you applied to your dream school, you probably put a lot of pressure on yourself when it came to getting accepted. Maybe you'd been dreaming of attending that college since you were young. Perhaps you'd already amassed an envious collection of gear for that particular college. Anyone in your situation would feel emotionally crushed. However, just because you didn't get accepted into the college of your dreams doesn't mean all hope is lost.

Take a Breath and Rethink Your Plan

If you received a rejection letter, consider taking a few days just to breathe and take it in. Getting rejected from your dream school can be a very challenging experience, and it's normal to feel bad about yourself. However, not getting into your dream school doesn't make you a failure in any way! You may just want to take some time to process and then rethink your plan.

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Start by thinking about the reasons the admissions office may have rejected your application. It might be something very obvious, such as grades or below-minimum SAT/ACT scores. If those reasons are behind the rejection, considering altering your plan with the goal of eventually trying to transfer into your dream school. When you transfer to colleges, they often just look at your grades from the college-level courses you've taken. So if you want to transfer, talk to the admissions office at your dream school about what college courses will transfer. Then, you might take a year at another college and work hard to raise that GPA.

Embrace Your Plan B School

If you don't want to take the transfer route, the best option may be to embrace your new destiny at a college that does want you. It may turn out to be your dream school after all! College, in a lot of ways, is like any relationship. Would you want to attend your dream school if its admissions department didn't think you were a good fit? Probably not. So start looking at all of the opportunities your second-choice college has to offer.

When applying to your plan B school, you may not have fully considered what it has to offer. If you can, revisit the school and think about why you were considering enrolling in that college in the first place. For example, it may offer scholarships for which you're well-qualified, or other opportunities such as research fellowships with faculty or internships that may appeal to your interests. Spend some time reading the college newspaper and get to know the campus organizations. Perhaps even pick up the phone and call the admissions office to make an appointment to visit your major's department. All of this will help you stop thinking of it as plan B and, in the process, maybe even make it your new dream school.

Take a Break from the College Hunt

If you can't get past the rejection letter from your dream school - and the prospect of attending your second-choice college is unappealing - it may be a good idea to take a gap year from college to regroup. That will give you some time to just live life and find new dreams. Even students who are accepted into their dream schools sometimes elect to take a gap year. It's completely normal.

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However, it's not wise to just sit around your parent's house for that gap year bemoaning your present situation. Make it a productive experience. There are many programs that offer students opportunities to make their gap year meaningful. You could go abroad and work on conservation projects or stay at home and intern with local businesses. The important thing is that, if you have to walk away from school for a while, you have something to show at the end of that year. If you don't, it can make reapplying to college that much harder the next year. Admissions departments don't mind gap years; however, if you have nothing to show for it, they may have concerns when reviewing your application.

Overcoming Disappointment

Not getting into your dream school is a huge disappointment. If you're feeling down on yourself, that's completely understandable. However, don't wallow too long. You have plenty of accomplishments in your life to be proud of! So once you have mourned for a bit, rethink your plans. Perhaps you can reapply to your dream school after taking some courses at another college or even taking a gap year. Another viable option is revisiting your second choice and embracing the opportunities it offers. In any case, it may be time to find a new path or perhaps even a new dream school.

Want to get a head start while pondering your college options? Check out's College Accelerator!

By Rachel Tustin
November 2018
college college admissions

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