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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 beyond 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 the grades and courses you have taken, 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 get older, 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.

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?

Maybe this deviation is the jolt you need to get to where you want to be.

If you think about it, you are the designer of your future. 

You have the ability to choose the direction you want to go. This rejection is just one of the many obstacles that life puts in your way. On the bright side, you can still get to design your future!

How exciting is that?

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.

When evaluating colleges, pay attention to which college offers the best program for your future career goals. 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 is focused 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 distract you from the mission of the college. Brand is more about marketing than quality. If a college is not focused on student outcomes but has a big name, it is no different than 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 easiest way to see the impact of marketing on rankings is to look at admissions numbers. Universities with large numbers of applicants and yet meager admission rates game the system (UCLA is the best example here). Just think of the fantastic, self-perpetuating marketing machine that is UCLA, pushing admission rates down and driving applications up. Apple and Nike wish they got this kind of free advertising year after year.**

The Differences Between Transactional & Transformational Colleges

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

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

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

3. Use the 5 | 10 | 20 Rule to Design Your Future

Most people make the mistake of relying on all data or all on heart 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 important data into your decision and still 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 = 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 into 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 right data, now go about finding the college that fits you best.

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

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 usually, only students who can claim extenuating circumstances that were not considered in the original application are admitted.

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 find out what steps to take. When you write your appeal essay, be sure to include new information that might change the admissions counselors' minds.

If you rewrite your essay without saying anything different, it will be a waste of time.

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 accepted 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-closure admissions cycle, I suggest that 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 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, not as opposed to your features. Let's look at ad copy 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 makes sure she contributes to the success of her peers.

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

Benefits > Features

But by listing the benefits, you position yourself in the eyes of the applicant, because you have specifically listed what you can offer.

Past Category of 1 Essay Options:

Here are essays summaries from a few past students.

  • 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 she described herself, played a different sport each year to learn how to overcome adversity. Because she tried a new sport every season, she had to keep learning and was not very good. 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 today that you might regret tomorrow:

  1. Don't take a gap year of study because you did not get 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 did not make it to your dream school. If you have no other choice, a community college is an acceptable option. 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. There are few good things that happen when you are driving and staring in the rearview mirror. It's okay to take a look back, but do 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!

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