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Maddi Lee

How to Handle College Rejections

About a week ago, I was rejected by Stanford. Here’s the thing: I would’ve been genuinely confused if the decision had been anything else. The rejection still hurt, though. Rejection almost always hurts.

There were definitely a few tears. As well as…an embarrassing amount on Stanford-related Youtube channels to unsubscribe from.


I admit I ate a little more ice cream than was necessary.


Okay, a lot more.


Um, yeah. Basically. But here’s the thing! It’s been a week, and I’m feeling fine. I’m refocusing, I’m right here writing this article, and I’m even consuming normal levels of ice cream.

For those of you who have been rejected by a college early, you might recognize the feelings after that fateful day: dejection, shock that a dream has barred its doors to you forever, insecurity that you might not just be good enough for any college

But those feelings are normal…And your life is far from over! There are tons of healthy ways to handle rejection. Don’t let yourself sink into a pool of endless misery. You’re worth way more than that. So…if decision day didn’t work out the way you’d wanted it to, take heart and follow these tips to handle rejection!


1) Don’t take it personally.


A college’s decision not to accept you is NOT a reflection of yourself. These colleges are receiving thousands and thousands and tens of thousands of applications—way, way more than they have space to accept. These days, colleges are receiving way more applications than they’ve ever had before—mainly because the Common App has made it fast and convenient for kids to apply to ten or more schools at once.

This is not an evaluation of how worthy you are as a person. This is a matter of schools just not having enough beds to house every qualified applicant. This is even more relevant if you applied to a college that is ranked in the top 25.

Many of the elite colleges are huge “crapshoots.” In other words, it’s a gamble. When acceptance rates start dropping below 20%, who gets in and who doesn’t becomes more and more unpredictable. You could do everything in your power to be the best person you can be and still be rejected just because the admissions officer reading your application was having a bad day. Some of the best applicants can get rejected, while less qualified applicants can be accepted. The admissions process can almost seem like a lottery—based on factors beyond your control like luck and chance.

So please, please, please do not think you are any less of a person because of a decision some group of adults made at a table thousands of miles away.


2) Be happy that you tried.


This may sound trite, but it’s all too true. You should be proud that you got rejected because at least you tried. You stepped beyond your comfort zone and tackled an application that probably scared you beyond belief. You tried your best and you tried something new. You dared to leap for the moon. And hey—you may not have reached it, but as the old saying goes, you could’ve landed among the stars instead.

It is much better to be someone who tries and fails rather than a person who is too scared to try and fails by default. As H. Jackson Brown Jr. once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”


3) Use this as a lesson to improve


Take this rejection as a great opportunity to reflect upon your application, see where it can be improved, and move on to better and greater things! Look over your essays again. Seeing them anew after these past few months could warrant some changes you’d never thought of before. Have them go through a few rounds of reading by close friends or family members. Look at your list of extracurriculars and add anything new. See if they can be worded a bit differently.

Especially if you were rejected early decision, this isn’t a chance shared by many others. Once you leap into the regular decision process, you are different from other applicants in that you are now a veteran. You’ve been through the process before. You have a bit more experience, and the whole ride—the whole ordeal of waiting and opening letters—will seem a lot less scary the second time around. Be grateful for this opportunity!


4) Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.


Just as the title says. There are tons of stories out there about people getting rejected from their prestigious “dream schools” only to go to a different school and realize they would not have been as happy if things had gone right the first time.

Try making a list of the reasons why your (ex) dream school may not have been your best fit. If you’re not completely over your rejection, it’ll help you move on. Take this rejection as good luck. For me at least, it wasn’t until after my Stanford rejection that I realized how much of a better fit other schools would have been—especially for my career path.


5) You are not alone


As a mid-90’s Michael Jackson once said…You are not alone! You are one among tens of thousands of high schoolers who were rejected. It’s not as if everyone was accepted, and the admissions committee singled out your application and decided you were lame. (Unless! Unless…Maddi slowly backs out of the room as the truth of her rejection letter descends upon her.)

In fact, there are tons of people at your school who were also likely rejected. Heck, you probably have parents and other family members who also have had experience with rejection. That said, it’s wise to..


6) Talk it out!


Talking with someone about your frustration, your fears, and your worries can be surprisingly helpful! At the risk of sounding like your therapist, it’s much easier to deal with your feelings when you’re talking about them aloud. Friends and family members who have experience with rejection in the past—or maybe even now, if they’re your age and also dealing with college—can help more than you can imagine.

It might seem embarrassing, but talking it out is not nearly so intimidating as it sounds. There’s no shame in just, you know, letting it g—


I am so sorry. I had to.


7) Eat it out! Work it out! Live fully and breathe.


And, alas! The most important tip of all. Just move on! Eat some of your favorite food, maybe try exercising some of that stress away. Live fully because this really is your only life (unless you believe in reincarnation, which is a whole different story…but anyways). College does not define you. Sure, a nice one can look pretty on your resume, but ultimately, the institution you attend will not determine your success in life. That’s up to you! Your drive. Your will to succeed. The whole purpose of life is to be happy. Just remember that. True happiness is never going to be determined by what college you go to!

So just breathe…and move on! Finish your other apps and don’t stress out. You’re going to be just fine.


About Maddi Lee

Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!

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