By SAGE Scholars
June 2, 2022

What to do When You’ve Been Rejected from Your Dream School

For many students, the college applications process is an emotional rollercoaster. Your peers may celebrate their college acceptance or experience disappointment after receiving rejections from their dream schools. After one of the most tumultuous and competitive college admissions cycles to date, many students wonder what more they could’ve done to receive admission into their choice college.

Culturally, we don’t talk about failure and what it can teach us. Failing Up explains how many people we admire have pushed through failure, reflecting on what it taught them and how it helped redirect them toward something better. Recent reports indicate that, after this college admissions cycle, many students have considered utilizing a gap year to strengthen their applications and determine what they wish to gain from a college experience.

At the moment, “failing” to secure something you’ve worked hard for can seem like the ultimate letdown—especially when many high school students have prepared for college from the moment they begin freshman year. Here’s the thing, college acceptance does not define you. Receiving a rejection can disguise itself as an opportunity, opening up new avenues of consideration that you otherwise may have ignored.

Unpacking the “Dream” School Culture

Some students fanaticize about their college of choice from the moment they begin the applications process. Anyone who talks about or has a dream school must remember that they use the word dream—literally meaning an ”ideal aspiration or ambition.“ In other words, it’s highly unlikely that the image of your college will live up to what you have in your head. Many schools rely on these sensationalized and idealistic perspectives to increase their admissions pool, particularly when it comes to prestige. No college experience will be entirely smooth sailing, and you don’t actually know if a campus will be the right fit until you get there and live into the decision. In a previous article, we talked about the logistics of college transfer process and how common it is for students to move institutions after their freshman year.

Prestige and selectivity do not equal happiness. It’s impossible to gauge if what you observe from the outside will hold true once you become an insider on campus. Keeping this sentiment in mind as you navigate admissions and possible rejections can help add perspective during a high-stress and high-stakes time.

But You Still Got Rejected…And, Honestly, It’s Kind of Devastating

This is to be expected. It’s difficult to see something you worked for slip through the cracks, and the uncertainty of what’s next may seem too much to handle. For now, rest. Give yourself some time to be as sad or flummoxed as you wish. If you’re someone who needs community to feel better, call on a trusted friend. Or, if you’d prefer to be left alone, that’s ok too! Take a day or weekend to do whatever you need to move through rejection and become stronger.

Time for a Pep Talk!

Like you’d show up for your friends during a hard time, remember to show up for yourself in this way too. You deserve the same pep talk that you would give to your friends. For those students who have spent hours watching college acceptance YouTube videos, there’s a new wave of videos where students share their rejections and consider what’s next. During this time especially, it’s easy to get sucked into a culture of toxic positivity that makes dealing with rejection unbearable. Try to avoid these types of internet cultures amid your rejection.

Reframe the Narrative

To truly reframe the narrative and consider what possibilities may arise from it, you first need to accept it for what it is. Some of this is just not in your control. Sure, you can control what extracurriculars and accomplishments show up on your application, but once you hit submit on your application, there’s not much else you can do. Continually trying to grasp what you cannot control only pulls you further into ac cycle of frustration, making it increasingly difficult to see the next steps.

For some students, it helps to understand the college admissions process in general. Just because you check all the boxes does not mean that you are going to earn a spot in the admissions class. More often than not, checking all the boxes means that the admissions committee will actually look at your application. Remember, admissions committees want to create an interesting and diverse class of people. If ten people in your school all submitted to the school of your choice, admissions committees will likely not accept all of them. At those more selective institutions, there are going to be three to four times more applications than there are spots for. That means a lot of this is just the role of the dice. It’s important to remember that a rejection is not a rejection of you as a person. Committees rejected a small sample of your work and experiences to date. You never know what colleges look for to fill their classes, and that varies depending on who is graduating, the economy, trends in higher education, and the quality of applicant pools.

Redirect Your Attention

No use dwelling on a decision that you cannot change. Without really understanding the college’s admissions process, it’s easy to obsess over why you may or may not have received acceptance. But, the truth is, you’ll never truly know. Instead of focusing on the unknown, focus on what you know and have control over. How you move forward now can help you not only redirect your attention but chart new paths toward your future. This does not mean that you have to reinvent yourself, but don’t be afraid to pick up something you’ve always wanted to try. Sometimes, breaking from our normal day-to-day routines can actually help jumpstart new directions.

Practice Failing Better

When you experience rejection, it can become difficult to take risks that open the possibility for more rejection. How do you stop failure from making you afraid to take future risks?

The key is to understand that failure is part of the learning process. It’s unavoidable—though, much of our education demands that we avoid it at all costs. This means that we’re actually taught, implicitly, to fear failure. Students are told that high marks and GPA equals success from day one. We’re taught to strive for roles that speak to what we perceive as honorable, sometimes without even questioning if it’s what we want to do or more of what we feel we have to do. Suppose you believe that failure means you’re incapable or useless. In that case, you will have an exceptionally difficult time getting better at anything you do while being open and receptive to learning. Failure is a part of life whether or not it’s what we’re taught.

It’s Going to Be OK!

It might be difficult to see right now, but your school does not define the success you will have now or in the future. You do! And remember, it’s no use comparing your journey to that of your peers. Everyone has their path, and there’s no one way to make the most of it.

SAGE Scholars

At SAGE Scholars, we deeply believe in the value and quality of private higher education. Our mission is to provide access to affordable college opportunities while bringing together families, colleges & universities, and benefit providers to create college funding solutions. Since 1995, SAGE Scholars has bridged the gap between students who want a quality private college education and colleges that will work closely with member families to ensure affordability — all at no cost to the student, family, or college. As the nation’s oldest, largest, and most trusted private college preparation and funding organization, we’re providing families with the guidance and resources they need for every step of the college process.
View all posts

SAGE Scholars News

Warner University Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
Warner University Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
June, 2022
Warner University, where President David Hoag and his wife have hosted more than 3,500 students in their home in recent years, has become the 19th Florida university / college to participate in SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards. Founded in Central Florida in 1968, Warner is home to 800+ undergraduates on a 300-acre campus in Lake Wales, an hour’s drive from Orlando or Tampa. Offering...
Introducing The SAGE Scholars Newsroom
Introducing The SAGE Scholars Newsroom
June, 2022
Since 1995, SAGE Scholars has bridged the gap between how families perceive the expense of private college and how they pay for it. With over 440 member institutions and growing, SAGE Scholars has sedimented itself as the nation’s most trustworthy college savings organization. The SAGE Scholars Newsroom is now stepping into a new...
Molloy University Joins SAGE Tuition Rewards
Molloy University Joins SAGE Tuition Rewards
May, 2022
Molloy University, located just 25 miles from Midtown Manhattan, has become the first Long Island college to join the SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards program. 31 New York State private colleges now participate in the SAGE Enrollment Consortium, the nation’s largest for private colleges. From a freshman class of 44 students in 1955, Molloy has grown to serve 3,300 undergraduates (36%...
Ottawa University Kansas Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
Ottawa University Kansas Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
April, 2022
Ottawa University Kansas, which offers a remarkable number of varsity sports teams — 33 — to serve a student body of 650 undergraduates, has become the 11th Kansas private college to join the SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards program. 88% of OU Kansas students are athletes, including numerous unexpected possibilities: beach volleyball, bowling, competitive cheer and dance, Esports,...
Laguna College of Art + Design Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
Laguna College of Art + Design Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
April, 2022
Laguna College of Art + Design, preparing individuals for careers as creative artists and designers in a culturally and ethnically diverse world, has joined the SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards program -- the 14th participating college to specialize exclusively in the arts. Home to 700+ student artists, LCAD offers 11 undergraduate majors, nine minors, three graduate degree programs, and a...
Simpson College Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
Simpson College Joins SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards
March, 2022
Simpson College, where nearly 100 students participate on the highly-acclaimed Speech and Debate Team, winner of Pi Kappa Delta national championships four of the past five years, has joined the SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards program. Speech and Debate scholarships are available at Simpson, located near Des Moines, Iowa’s state capital. Small class sizes create a dynamic learning...