Niche College Scholarship

The College Rejection Letter

Coping with College Rejection

What to Do After Receiving a Rejection Letter

Applying for colleges can be a stressful time, and receiving a rejection letter from your ‘dream school’ (or any college, for that matter) only adds to the overwhelm of finding the perfect college for you. However, receiving a college rejection letter does not need to be the end of your journey into higher education. Knowing how to deal with a college rejection letter can help you to find the school that is actually the best fit for you, and, in some ways, it can even be a blessing in disguise. College rejection letters can build your resilience and maybe even make you more determined to get into a specific school. Changing your perspective on college rejection letters is the first step towards getting the education of your dreams.

What should I do if I receive a college rejection letter?

It is definitely one of life’s most difficult experiences to deal with: rejection. You studied hard in high school, participated in a range of extracurriculars, and submitted, what felt like, the perfect college application essay. And yet you've received a college denial letter!

Don't take it personally

The first step to helping you through this deflating feeling of rejection is to realize that you are not alone. Thousands of students are rejected by colleges across the world, year in, year out. There are many reasons why a school would reject your application, and it does not make you a bad student to receive a letter of rejection.

Have a backup plan

Many students feel that they’ve failed if they don’t get into competitive schools. However, there are hundreds of great schools out there that would love to have you as part of their community.

Therefore, it is essential that you don’t place all of your hopes into just one school. You should develop three categories of college to help you feel confident even if a rejection letter arrives. These categories are often known as reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. You should aim to have around 1-2 schools in each category. Any more can make it an especially overwhelming application process.

Reach schools schools are the ‘dream schools’ you want to attend. These schools are likely to be more selective schools and may include Ivy League schools that have notoriously low acceptance rates. For this reason, you need a backup plan in place, but don’t let the exclusivity of these schools deter you from applying. Even if you aren’t 100% confident in your chances of getting in, there is always the potential that a dream college sees you as a perfect fit.

Target schools may have a higher admission rate, and, based on your academic accomplishments and the school’s acceptance rate, you have a good chance of acceptance. It is important not to simply apply for any old school, as you may end up unhappy if it’s the only place you get accepted!

Safety schools are backup schools that you feel will very likely accept your application for admission. Your grades and academic record should be higher than these schools’ average for their students. This may sound like they’re last resort options, but you should choose safety schools that still offer reputable programs and an amazing college experience.

Understand the different types of letters you might receive

There are a number of different types of letters you may receive, depending on when you applied, to what type of school you applied and how far you made it into the consideration process. You also may get wait-listed or deferred.

What is a deferral letter?

If you apply under an early action plan or early decision, then the admissions committee will send you either an acceptance, rejection, or deferral letter. A deferral letter means not all hope is lost for that particular school.

This means that the school still wants to consider your application during the regular round of decisions. As a result, you do not need to reapply for that school, but you may be asked to write a confirmation letter demonstrating your interest in the school.

If this is a school that you are particularly excited about, you can use this opportunity to increase your chances of acceptance. Perhaps you have additional information to add to your application that they should know about, such as a letter of recommendation or further academic accomplishments. Now is your chance to let them know.

Deferrals can get a bad reputation amongst high-achieving students, as being deferred can seem like a big disappointment compared to an acceptance letter. However, they are not a ‘no’ and should be treated as such. Use deferrals to your advantage and keep your backup plan in mind.

Why have I been waitlisted?

If you apply under an early action plan or early decision, then the admissions committee will send you either an acceptance, rejection, or deferral letter. A deferral letter means not all hope is lost for that particular school.

Simply put, you have not been accepted, but the college could have an opening for you if accepted students decide not to attend. Accepting a spot on the waitlist can be a great choice if this is a school that you are keen to attend. Even if you change your mind, you can always withdraw your application.

Being waitlisted, similarly to being deferred, does not need to feel like a failure. It is still an opportunity to attend a college that you really like, and does not mean you are any less worthy of attending because of the admissions decision. They may simply have applications from students who fit their criteria perfectly, but it shows that your application was still strong enough to gain their attention.

Why do colleges reject applicants?

There are many reasons why a college may reject your application. It’s important not to dwell on this too much, but understanding the admission decision can help you to improve your chances when applying to the next school.

As stated previously, not taking it personally is especially important when thinking about this. Colleges can often have specific criteria that they are looking for, which can change every year.

However, one of the most obvious reasons for rejection is a failure to meet the academic standards of the school. If your GPA or test scores simply aren’t high enough, then this is reason enough for a college to reject you.

College essays are also a potential reason for rejection. Essays that don’t highlight a genuine interest in the school, sound too generic or cliche, or are full of grammatical errors are a big turn-off for many schools.

Frequently Asked Questions about College Rejection

Is there any way to appeal a college rejection decision?

Although uncommon for a decision to be reversed, some colleges do offer the chance to appeal a rejection. Perhaps your circumstances have changed significantly since you applied, in which case you may have a strong case to appeal.

How can I improve my chances of being accepted to college in the future?

There is a lot of advice out there about writing the perfect college essay to dazzle school admissions offices. You can have perfect grades and a strong college application…and still get rejected! So how can you really improve your chances of acceptance into college?

Take challenging courses and earn good grades in them

Particularly in your junior and senior years, be sure to enroll in as many challenging courses as you can. AP, honors, and IB courses will help you stand out on a college application. You’ll want to excel academically at these courses, so try not to overwhelm yourself, but if you can handle an abundance of courses, this is the first step to decrease your chances of rejection.

Aim high in the SAT or ACT

Although commonly known amongst high school students, the importance of SAT or ACT scores should not be overlooked. College admissions often think highly of these scores and they could be a deciding factor in your application being accepted or rejected. You can prepare well for the exam by using official practice tests and questions, available online for free.

Write a Strong Application

One of the most difficult aspects of the application process is writing the perfect personal statement. It can make getting the grades seem like the easy part!

Every school is different, and what they’re looking for will be different, too. With this in mind, your personal statement needs to be engaging and creative, whilst also demonstrating that you’ve done your research about the school. It should show a genuine interest and understanding of the school, highlighting why they should want to have you as a student. Remember, the college admissions process is essentially a competition, and you need to stand out.

Consider Community College

Community college is a great alternative to a four-year school. It is also a more affordable option compared to a traditional four-year college. Community college also enables you to transfer your credits, and many colleges will allow you to do this and complete your college degree at their institution.

Education is out there

A college rejection letter might seem like the end, but, with the benefit of perspective, it can actually be the beginning of your bright academic future. Use your rejection letter to spark a determination to appeal the decision, or to find a school that is better suited to you.

Last Reviewed: October 2023