Free 3-Day Trial ➤

You Just Got Rejected From Your Dream College | Here Are the 5 Things You Need to Do Right Now

college prep future planning guidebook high school Mar 23, 2022
College Rejection Hurts

You've just received a rejection letter from your dream college, and you're devastated, but you need to figure out what to do next because you still want to go to school somewhere.

Don't despair!

Here are the 5 things you need to do right now to get the situation back under control.

What Did I Do Wrong?

Most likely, you did nothing wrong.

This time, fate just caught you on the wrong end.

Remember that the college admissions process consists of three phases, one of which is out of your control.

The three phases are:

  • Application
  • Admission
  • Selection

Once you apply, your job is done.

The gatekeeper of your future, who has never met you, is now evaluating you based on your grades and courses, the tone of your essay, and whether there are any extracurricular activities worth mentioning. Whether you are accepted or rejected depends on an uneven balance of merit and luck.

Is that fair?

Probably not, but no one ever said life was fair.

Right or wrong, college admissions today are less about merit and more about luck and subjectivity.

1. College Is a Path Forward, Not the Destination 


I know it's hard to understand right now, but don't feel down. This rejection can be a blessing in disguise.

Seriously, let's make something good out of it!

As you age, you'll see that things happen for a reason. Whether you want to call it luck, fate, or karma, life has a strange way of working itself out.

Instead of wasting your time and energy fretting over your rejection, focus on what you can do to move forward. Decide to be a victor and not a victim!

College Is Not Your Ultimate Destination

College is just a way to get to the next phase of your life. I know the place you wanted to go to felt like it was "perfect."

But maybe it wasn't?

This rejection may be just what you need to move forward.

Design Your Future

You can choose the direction you want to go. This rejection is just one of the many obstacles that life puts in your way. So don’t let it get you down; you can still pick your path.

Realize that rejection is just an obstacle, not an end.

Say that out loud with me this time: rejection is just an obstacle, not an end.

2. Focus on Future Outcomes

Based on the college(s) that have admitted you, let's assess how they fit into your overall plan.

Remember, our goal is to plan for the future, not just the next four years of study.

Consider which college offers the best program for your future career goals when evaluating colleges. There are two terms you should keep in mind:

  • transformational colleges
  • transactional colleges

Transformational colleges exist to serve you & make you future-ready. The mission statement for these colleges focuses on your future success, not the college's future success.

When evaluating transformational colleges, look for positive numbers in these categories:

  • career options
  • student activities
  • campus and culture
  • 4 & 6-year grad rates
  • total cost to graduate
  • interesting majors with positive lifetime ROIs

Transactional colleges focus primarily on their needs, not yours. Transactional colleges do not focus on the above categories but may have a big name or occupy a top spot on college-ranking websites.

Do not let the brand name distract you from the college's mission. The brand is more about marketing than quality. If a college is not focused on student outcomes but has a big name, it is the same as a Fortune 500 company promoting its brand.

Part of your design process is finding the balance between the above categories that makes the most sense for you.

The impact of marketing on rankings can be observed by analyzing admissions numbers. Some universities with a large number of applicants but low admission rates manipulate the system to their advantage, with UCLA being a prime example. The marketing strategy of UCLA is highly effective and self-sustaining, resulting in a continuous increase in applications and a decrease in admission rates. Even renowned brands like Apple and Nike would envy the level of publicity that UCLA receives without any cost, year after year.

The Differences Between Transactional & Transformational Colleges

A transactional college will only give you random, incremental experiences that will not dramatically impact your future.

Transformational colleges will provide you with a series of incremental experiences that will ultimately give an exponential outcome.

Transformational colleges focus on your future by transforming an anxious 18-year-old into a future-ready adult ready for the unknown.

3. Use the 5 | 10 | 20 Rule to Design Your Future (Click Here to See This Rule In Action).

Most people make the mistake of relying on all data or all emotions when choosing colleges.

Those who rely only on numbers are "data-driven." Those who rely only on data to select something so personal will often find a future of failure.

Those who rely only on their feelings may find a place where they feel good but may not have a bright future.

The perfect balance is to let the data influence your decision but not control it. That's the difference with the 5 | 10 | 20 rule.

With this simple formula, you can incorporate the most critical data into your decision and keep your heart involved.

Step 1: What Percent of Students Graduate in 5 Years

If the 5-year average is below 63.8%, it is a transactional college that is more interested in money than your future.

The longer you go to school, the less likely you are to graduate. At some point, you need to start your life!

Step 2: How Long It Takes to Get a Positive Return on Investment in Your Major & College

A positive ROI at 10 years = means your earnings exceed your investment.

A college isn't interested in your future if it "sells" you a major you can't ever make a living with.

Step 3: 20 = The 20-year Outlook for This Major

Are you getting a major in an emerging field with excellent job prospects?

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Blockchain
  • Crypto
  • Data Science

Are you getting into a field that isn't a growth industry but is always steady?

  • Accounting
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Medicine

Are you getting into a field that underperforms historically?

  • Education
  • Journalism
  • Liberal Arts
  • Visual Arts

Armed with the correct data, now find the college that fits you best.

Please go to my Guidebook on Future Proof Kids for a more thorough explanation of the 5 | 10 | 20 Rule and how to apply it.

4. Appeal

One of the most common responses to rejections is to ask for an appeal.

You have the right to request an appeal, but I suggest that you do not. The appeal process is simple, but students who can claim extenuating circumstances not considered in the original application have the best chance of being considered.

If you have special circumstances that have changed since you submitted your application, an appeal is warranted. Be aware: rejections usually remain rejections, and you will waste a lot of emotional energy if you hope against hope.

If you want to appeal, contact the admissions office and determine what steps to take. When you write your appeal essay, include new information that might change the admissions counselors' minds.

It will be a waste of time if you rewrite your essay without saying anything different.

But if you believe what I wrote about destiny, let us turn that rejection into something good and start building your future.

Commit to the college that accepts & you do not look back.

5. Waitlist

For the past 35 years, I have advised students to avoid the waiting lists and get on with their lives. A place on the waiting list meant being at the bottom of the college list and not fitting in.

COVID-19 and the pandemic era changed my approach.

Qualified students, er, VERY qualified students, are waitlisted at universities where, under normal circumstances, they would never have been waitlisted.

Because of the randomness that is common during the post-COVID admissions cycles, I suggest you put your name on some of your waitlist choices. Even though this contradicts what I am saying about your future, it is the right thing to do to help make up a little for the great odds you had when you entered the lottery for college admissions.

Waitlist Essay

If your college has asked you to write an essay, do it!

This extra essay is your chance to show why you are a good fit for the college and why the college will be a good fit for you.

Make sure you focus on your benefits rather than your features. Let's look at successful advertising for some help.

If you have ever seen a Tesla ad, you'll notice that they focus on the benefits of their cars, not their features.

Features are nice, but there is no context to what they offer.

For example, what would make you buy a Tesla?

Dual-motor all-wheel drive with 670 horsepower (features)


412 Mile Range & 0 - 60 in 1.99 seconds! (BENEFITS!)

The first line was features (who cares), and the second was benefits (I NEED THIS!).

When you write about yourself, focus on your benefits:

Feature: I am a hard worker

Benefit: I am a student who finishes what she starts and ensures she contributes to her peers' success.

Listing the features from your past will not do much to convince a college that you are the right fit.

Benefits > Features

By listing the benefits, you position yourself differently. Admissions officers get s glimpse of what you offer. If you only list features, they must guess what you can do.

Becoming a Category of 1 Student

A category of 1 means that you are unique. There is something about you that makes you stand out. When admissions officers try to group students into categories, they keep seeing your name alone. You aren't like the hundreds of thousands of applicants with little difference. You have something different about you that makes you an appealing candidate. 

How do you differentiate yourself?

The first is by being honest. The second, is by being clear, and not clever. The third is by being very specific. These three things are in short supply when it comes to college admissions essays. Students often will stretch the truth, try to be too clever, and be overly vague. Reading essay after essay like this becomes very monontous, and as a result, gets you a rejection.

But if you can be honest (show them the good and bad, your fears and doubts, your hopes and dreams), write clearly (like you wrote it and not ChatGPT), and you are specific with the details that matter, you can elevate yourself into a Category of 1. 

Here are essays summaries from a few past students who put themselves in a Category of 1.

  • A prospective film student wrote a 250-word essay as if he were standing on the red carpet of the Academy Awards, using the "interview" to say what he learned and how he learned his craft in college.
  • A prospective student wrote about an illuminating moment surfing in Norway in wool socks. He wrote about how privilege takes many forms and the importance of taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
  • A "pathetic athlete," as my student described herself, played a different sport each year to learn how to overcome adversity. Because she tried a new sport every season, she was always learning and started at the bottom, rarely playing. But the lessons she learned while practicing and watching games from the bench were more instructive than most of her academic courses.

What You Should Not Do

Everyone deals with stress differently, and sometimes we do things today that we will regret later. But it does not have to be that way if you can focus on your future.

Here is a short list of things you should not do & might regret in the future:

  1. Don't take a gap year of study because you were not accepted to the college of your dreams. What makes you think you'll be accepted next year?
  2. Do not go to a community college if you were not accepted to your dream school. A community college is an acceptable option if you have no other choice. However, if you have other options, start your life! Do not look to your past to define your future. Start creating your future, and then put it into action!
  3. Pick a school where you will be accepted and plan to transfer as soon as possible. Two things happen here: 1) you do not fully commit to the place you are studying and may miss out on chance encounters with friends or a future spouse; 2) you live in the past. Few good things happen while driving and staring in the rearview mirror. It's okay to look back but not dwell on the past. Instead, dream about the opportunities you will have in the future.

Good luck with your decision, and remember, it is your future to design, so get to it!

Design Your Child's Academic Future With Our Newsletter and Guidebooks

Subscribe so you never have to worry about missing anything. Every new edition of the Newsletter and all Academic Guidebooks go directly to your inbox.

Get Started ➤