What to Do If You Didn't Get Into Your First Choice College

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College readiness courses are a must for most high schools, with students selecting their top university picks as early as the ninth grade. For students who haven't been accepted by their first-choice colleges, the rejection, while initially devastating, may actually be an opportunity in disguise.

The Dreaded College Rejection Letter

For the last 12 years you've been waiting for this moment, only to find that you haven't been accepted to your dream college. Countless study groups, late-night reading sessions, and ACT/SAT prep courses, all conducted in pursuit of this one letter. Now what? How do you deal with the deferral or rejection letter from your first-choice college and pick up the pieces?

First, take a second to pause your 18-year-old mid-life crisis. Then, keep reading to learn how to turn your lemons into lemonade.

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Embrace Failure

It may sound ironic to accept what initially looks like a failure on your part, but it's the first step in getting out of your funk. Recognize that accepting failure is not about giving up, but instead about understanding that a college rejection letter isn't a measure of your intrinsic worth.

Once you come to terms with the fact that you can't beg, bribe, or bully your way into an acceptance letter from your first-choice college, you can begin thinking about your next plan of action. It will also give you an edge when competing for future jobs or internships, particularly when dealing with rejection.

Try Again

Wouldn't life be easy if you could snap your fingers and everything you've ever wanted fell into your lap? Unfortunately, most things in life worth having require more than a little effort, and getting into your first-choice college is no exception.

With many colleges accepting students at least twice a year, you can reapply as early as the next admission cycle. Applying a second time includes an important advantage. For example, you'll be familiar with the application process and questions. You'll also have more time to prepare, whether it's by saving more money, taking a college course, or weaning off your parents.

Meet with a College Rep

Colleges share their admission guidelines on their websites, yet very few explicitly state if they're looking to accept more first-generation students or those pursuing degrees in science. Getting to know a college admissions officer personally can provide you with direct insight into which type of students the college wants to recruit during its next admission season.

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For instance, a conversation or meeting with a college representative will help you understand how to improve your application. He or she may also help you with the transition process if you decide to transfer from your second-choice to your first-choice college during the middle of the academic year.

Take the Opportunity to Explore

You may or may not believe that everything happens for a reason. Either way, a rejection letter from your first-choice college can give you the chance to grow and provide you with the freedom to see what's behind door number two. So consider taking a gap year and studying abroad or enrolling in some community college courses while interning for a local business. Gaining a broader life perspective will not only help you when making decisions about college but also about your future career.

Be Great Somewhere Else

For some students, the college of their choice has been a dream since childhood, and this rejection may feel like a breakup, like being dumped by an ex who doesn't know what they're missing. It's their loss. Instead of crying yourself to sleep, wondering where it all went wrong, make them sorry.

first choice college decisions

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S alone who would be more than happy to have you, which means you'll have the room and reason to be picky. Your second- and third-choice colleges may actually surprise you as a better fit.

Remember, you make the school. It doesn't make you.

Check out Study.com's Guide to College Planning for additional tips on how to choose a college and pay for your education.

By Whitney Stovall
March 2019
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