Recovering from Rejection
You’ve worked for four long years of high school in hopes of getting into your Dream College. You worked diligently on your applications, trying to frame yourself in the exact way you thought the college would want. And in between the time that you sent in your application and when you got your decision, you read everything about your Dream College that you could get your hands on. You could feel yourself living and breathing that college. The world would be good once you got there.
Then the letter shows up in your mailbox. It’s a thin envelope. But you still hold out hope. Some colleges use little envelopes for acceptance letters, right? Your hands are trembling as you open the letter. “We regret to inform you…So many qualified applicants…Does not reflect on a deficiency or weakness.” The conciliatory phrases go on and on, but they don’t make you feel better at all. In fact, they make you feel worse.
Your dreams have been shattered. You devoted so much mental energy to imagining how you would seize your Dream College’s resources and opportunities — all the wonderful people you would meet, the classes you would take, and the opportunities the school would give you after you graduated. They’re all gone now. And it’s all because you’re inadequate.
The feeling of rejection, particularly from a college you’ve had your heart set on for months, is undeniably painful. You feel like your dreams have been ripped out of your hands. And you might even start to feel resentment towards people who did get into your Dream College.
Instead of telling yourself that these feelings are silly and illogical, acknowledge them and take them at face value. Your feelings are completely valid and it’s okay to feel sad, hurt, inadequate, angry, frustrated, cheated, and jealous. When you’ve worked really hard to achieve something, particularly something you’re emotionally connected to, and then don’t achieve it, you’re inevitably going pretty upset.
So I’m not going to tell you why your feelings don’t make sense and that you shouldn’t feel whatever way you’re feeling. Instead, I think it’s important for you to focus on how to deal with the next steps of the college search and selection process. How to move forward in the midst of the hard feelings of rejection:
- This Too Shall Pass Remind yourself that you’ve dealt with plenty of upsetting things before in your life and that you managed to get through it. Breakups, fights, loss of a job, a bad grade, getting in trouble in school, and much more. Even though the feelings are painful, your strength and ability to cope will allow you to move on. Keep reminding yourself of what a strong person you are.
- Commiserate with Others With admissions rates dipping as low as they are, there are definitely other students at your high school or friends from outside of school who are dealing with the same feelings you are. Talk to them about what you’re feeling and how you plan on moving forward. Remembering that you’re not alone can really help ease those feelings of inadequacy. This discussion space can also serve as a forum for venting frustrations without the same fear of negative repercussions from others. Take advantage of this.
- Look at How Others Learned to Deal Katie Couric was rejected from Smith College. She was a legacy. All of her family went there. And she was a good student. But Smith rejected her and Couric was devastated. She ended up at the her state school, the University of Virginia, instead. There she took advantage of the wonderful resources available to her by joining the award winning school newspaper and winning the Head RA position. Katie Couric is now Katie Couric. Barack Obama, arguably the most powerful person in the United States, was rejected from Swarthmore College. He seemed to turn out alright too. If you want something a little lighter, consider watching the movie Accepted for a good laugh about a student who was rejected from every college. Or read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Catalyst, a novel about a girl dealing with her rejection from MIT (Fun fact: Laurie Halse Anderson went to community college before transferring to Georgetown University).
- Try to Stay Rational This is the hardest, but often most powerful piece of advice. Research shows that what you do in college means far more for both your success and your happiness than does the college that you ended up attending. Getting rejected from your Dream School is not a death sentence. In addition, if you’re dealing with feelings of inadequacy, remember that particularly at the most selective schools, college admissions is random. They have FAR too many qualified applicants who would fit well with the school than they could offer places. At that point, it becomes luck of the draw. How was the admissions officer feeling that day? Does your high school have a cool name? Read world-renowned research psychologist Barry Schwartz talk about the injustices in the admissions process and how he wants to rectify them (hint: he wants a lottery system).
- Use Healthy Coping Strategies You’re going through a difficult time in your life. As a result, you need to take time out of your busy life to take care of yourself. In the face of stress, exercise, adequate sleep, and good food can do wonders for keeping yourself sane. Make sure to carve out at least an hour of every day to do something that’s enjoyable. Bake yourself a delicious dessert, go to a yoga class, watch a good movie, or just lay around.
- Get Excited About Your Other Choices If you’re a student who’s lucky enough to have other viable college choices, then move forward by committing yourself to taking advantage of every opportunity at the college you do end up attending. Don’t dwell on the past but focus on the future. Attend accepted students’ visit days at those colleges. Talk to current students. Read up on their resources and opportunities. And start imagining yourself at one of those schools. The idea of the Dream School is mythical. There is no one college that will be perfect for you. Every single college and strengths and weaknesses. What’s more important than going to your Dream School is attending college with the conviction that it’s the right place for you.
- Look at the Space-Availability List If you aren’t satisfied with the choices you have, remember that there are other options left. After May 1st, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors publishes a list of colleges that still have seats available. These range from tiny Bible colleges that you’ve probably never heard of to big names like Villanova University and Mount Holyoke College. Many schools have financial aid available as well.
- Remember That There Are Nontraditional Options If you don’t like the college you’re attending, you’re by no means stuck there. Thousands of college students transfer every year. If you’re unhappy, just put out applications to other schools (even colleges that might have rejected you before). It’s a pretty simple fix.
Have any more tips on how to deal? Share with us in the comment box below!