Rejects Who Made Good

Dealing with College Rejection

By Sue Shellenbarger

Mark Montgomery, from, interviews a student that wasn't accepted into any of his top choices.

Pam Proctor is the author of The College Hook: Packaging Yourself to Win the College Admissions Game and an expert with Aristotle Circle.Rejected!  The word looms over the college application process like a specter.  What if you don’t get into your dream school?  What if you don’t get into the college that everyone in your family has gone to for generations?  What if…

It may be cold comfort now, but there is a life after rejection. In fact, many students will say that getting rejected was the best thing that ever happened to them. That’s because opportunities they never even thought possible awaited them at the college that they ultimately chose to attend. Consider these examples:

  • Monica, whose heart was set on the University of Texas at Austin Her parents and grandparents had been Longhorns, and she didn’t want to let them down. Rejected by Texas, she ended up at a school in the Northeast with a strong journalism program. Within two months of being on campus, she landed a paid internship with an online newspaper linked to one of the biggest media companies in the country.
  • Chris, a brilliant writer with his eye on the Ivy League When the two Ivies on his list both said “no,” he shook the dust from his feet and pocketed $140,000 in merit scholarship money from big-city university that welcomed him to its honors program and a posh room in a brand-new dorm.
  • Tania, a Civil War buff with a flair for the dramatic A dissing by Duke left the door open to a women’s college, which gave her a hefty scholarship. From the first day of class, the mid-westerner found the intellectual camaraderie she had been yearning for.
  • Sam, a drummer hoping to make it big in the Fighting Irish band Notre Dame gave thumbs down, but his talent took off at a smaller but equally prestigious college where he became not just a member of the drumline – but a Big Man on Campus as the leader of the band.
  • Aruni, a National Merit Semi-Finalist at a highly selective metropolitan public high school Turned down by Harvard, she was accepted at another Ivy, where she honed her passion for the environment through the school’s semester at the Biosphere in Arizona.

As these students can testify, rejection by schools at the top of their “wish list” didn’t destroy their lives; rather, the turn-down jump-started their college careers on exciting new paths that set them on a positive course for college and beyond. To deal with rejection, here are some do’s and don’t’s.

How to Cure “Rejectionitis”

Don’t get fixated on one school. The truth is, you can find your niche at a host of schools – if you keep an open mind. Find at least two things to love about every school on your list, and you won’t be disappointed.

Do go for the academic program, and not the name. If your passion is all things Russian, for example, apply to schools where you can feed your interest. A name brand may not offer the options you want.

Don’t tell all your friends where you’re applying. Playing your cards close to your vest is a great way to keep the pressure off at decision time.

Do cover your bases by applying to a wide range of schools. Make sure that your list includes at least ten to twelve colleges, including several that are good bets for admission. If you’re shooting for top schools, apply to even more than twelve. You don’t want to be left empty-handed.

Don’t give yourself false hope. If your grades and scores don’t put you in the ballpark for a particular school, wishful thinking won’t push you into the “admit” pile. Be realistic!

Do apply early to a few schools with rolling admission. Getting immediate positive feedback from colleges can do wonders for your psyche.

Do embrace schools that love you. Schools that have given you the nod have made it clear that they want you on campus. They recognize your strengths. They know what you have to offer. As for the others, well, it’s their loss.

Ultimately, the biggest winner in the college admissions game will be the school you choose to attend. After all, the school has you – a powerhouse of potential who will make them proud. In the end, you can’t predict where your college career will take you. But one thing is certain: once you hit campus, be prepared to be pleasantly surprised!



Don't put all your eggs in one basketIris Schrey is an college counselor explains there are a lot of schools beyond your fist choice.

It is easy to have tunnel vision when applying to college. Every year, I seem to run across a handful of students who focus all their energy on getting into one school and forget they can thrive in a variety of environments. I’ll never forget the spring when the president of the student council walked into my office and said, “I didn’t listen to you and only applied to my top schools. I got waitlisted at all of them. Now it’s April and I don’t know where I’m going to college.” This is the consequence of tunnel vision.

The best way to make the most out of a rejection is to plan for it. To avoid being in the same situation as the student council president, apply to a variety of schools, including ones you consider ‘safety schools.’ More important, keep an open mind and be serious about finding alternatives that will make you happy. Otherwise, rejection will be that much more disappointing.

When I provide personalized counseling for students through, I often ask them why they are set on one specific school. Sometimes we figure out it was just a beautiful day when they visited and it felt good to be out of the snow in their hometown. Otherwise it’s often an arbitrary reputation or ranking. Students are shocked to realize that these are usually based on endowments, not what students actually say about their university. If you are passionate and ambitious, you will find an excellent education whether its at the school ranked number three, or the one ranked fifty-three.

If you are after a certain program or major, you can find ways to get exceptional experience no matter where you go. One young lady I coached was determined to get into a top ballet school in New York City. When she was denied, she went to New York anyway, joined a reputable dance group, and registered for night classes. She recently graduated with an impressive resume of ballet experience, and is living her dream in all aspects.

So what about the student council president? He ended up getting accepted for the spring semester at a small liberal arts college. He saw they offered a full tuition scholarship, for which he applied and received. Now he is following his dreams without paying a dime. So when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, or in this case - have someone else buy you a glass.

Iris Schrey is an admissions reader for a Chicago university and an online college counselor for iAdmissions. She has also advised students at Jones College Prep and was the Midwest Coordinator for the College Board's MyRoad program. She also works as as a part-time counselor at Triton College.