college rejection

Don’t Despair over College Rejection

Sometimes You Discover a Better Path


It’s the time of year when high school seniors are learning where they got accepted to colleges or universities.

Yay! Good for you! Time to celebrate!

Many are also opening those dejecting rejection letters.

If they didn’t get into their dream school, that can be a bummer.

If they didn’t get into any of their schools, it can be a time of utter panic.

So I wanted to share a timely story about a young woman who recently sought my help after experiencing the wildly unpredictable and emotionally charged quest for the right school–and brutal college rejection.

(I will call her Anne, a pseudonym since she is in the middle of applying to transfer colleges now.)

It was a bumpy road, and she learned invaluable lessons, which might help some of you (including transfer students!).

By her junior year of high school, Anne was one of those hardworking science/math kids who cleaned up on her grades and standardized tests.

When it came time to apply to college, she knew she wanted to be an engineer and was confident of her chances.

She applied to four top universities in mechanical engineering. Only four.

(You can see what’s coming, right?)

Come spring, she got the news. Anne did not get into any schools.


college rejection


Fortunately, Anne had a strong sense of self, very realistic and focused. She told me that she was disappointed, but not devastated.

Instead of freaking out and feeling sorry for herself, she quickly analyzed where she went wrong.

In her mind, since her grades and test scores were superior, she deduced that she was either lacking in impressive extra-curriculars or her essays were lackluster.

That fall, she enrolled in her local community college, signed up for a slew of extracurricular activities–including a rigorous ROTC program!–and kept her eye on her goal: mechanical engineering.


I suspect you already caught Lesson One from college rejection: Always have back-up schools when applying to college. Sure, go for your dream schools if you have a reasonable shot, but include a couple you have solid chance to get into as well, along with a couple fall-back, shoe-in schools.

Did you catch Lesson Two from college rejection?

Here it is: If you didn’t get into your targeted schools, no matter why, don’t despair. Sure, shed a few tears. That’s only natural.

Just remember that you always have options. It just might take you longer to get where you want to go.


college rejection


Now here’s Lesson Three from college rejection. It’s my favorite.

When Anne signed up for her classes at her community (2-year) college in Southern California, she thought to herself that since she blew her single-minded career track, she might as well loosen up and take the opportunity to broaden her horizons.

She decided to take some classes that she wouldn’t necessarily have had the chance if she dove directly into a demanding mechanical engineering track.

(Isn’t she a smart cookie?)

Of course, Anne had to take her core electives, but she also remembered her interest in biology sparked by her high school anatomy class. So she included a biology class, and loved it, and went on to take two chemistry classes. She loved those two.

The upshot? During taking her two-year community college detour, Anne discovered that she was more interested in a field of study in bio-med than mechanical engineering.

That’s huge! It’s fantastic to have the time and luxury to figure out what you really want to do in college, before you start your junior year (when you typically declare a major) and lock into a slate of specific courses and career path. Not to mention the bundles of money you can save getting your electives (core classes) out of the way for a fraction of the cost of a university or private college!

Of course, you can change up your college journey any time you want, but it often can cost you more time, money and effort.

But here’s the Lesson Three that I love so much: Because of her initial setback not getting into her dream target schools for mechanical engineering, Anne gave herself some breathing room (two years) to test out other possible interests.



Believe it or not, in your early 20s, a lot of emotional growth can take place even over the short span of a year or two. (One reason Gap Years are so popular.)

The better you know yourself, the wiser decisions you will make about your future. So a little more time usually helps.

Anne also had the maturity to not focus on her flub up (applying to only four super competitive schools with no back-ups) and instead continued to look forward, worked to figure out where she went wrong and adjusted her course.

And look what happened! She is now back on track to a career that feels perfect for her true passions and interests.



If you are waiting for your acceptance letters, and for some reason things don’t go as planned and a dose of college rejection, remember Anne:

  1. Don’t freak out. It’s not worth the energy.
  2. Try to figure out what went wrong and learn from any mistakes. Sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw, too.
  3. Get a new plan. It might not be what you had in mind, but swallow your pride, ignore the bluster talk from annoying friends and parents, and adjust your course.
  4. Remember, it never hurts to buy yourself a little more time to really figure out what you truly love, what you are good at, and what makes the most sense. You are young. Time is on your side. And if you are like Anne, you might be surprised that a bump in the road can actually help set you on an even better adventure!

I have to add that Anne also made an extra effort to ace her transfer essay. (Remember, one of the reasons she suspected she didn’t get into those top schools was that she didn’t put a lot of energy into her essays.) This time, she took the time to learn and teach herself what made a great transfer essay. And yes, she sought some outside help (me).

As you can probably guess, I told her to basically tell this inspiring story of her college quest so far, including the disappointments, and how she recovered, and the surprise of finding a new love and goal. If you are transferring, you will probably be asked to share the “reason you are transferring.”

Tell your story, too! And include, like Anne, what you learned from the process.

Don’t let a college rejection or two bring you down. You got this!