How to Deal with College Application Rejections

How to deal with not getting into your top choices when everyone else seems to be doing so – and no, your future is not ruined.

By Lara Mutluay February 15, 2021
Ross building

You worked non-stop through high school, got a perfect SAT/ACT score, and a near perfect GPA. Your recommendation letters are stellar and you’re probably at a prestigious position in a school club or two. Your application letters have been read, and re-read by you, your parents or guardians, your friends, and perhaps by helpful strangers on Quora. 

You have applied well within the deadline and it is the morning of the admissions decisions. You couldn’t sleep the night before, but you’re buzzing with anticipation. You try to log in to the admissions portal exactly at noon. The page loads, loads, loads. And…

“This year we have had an extremely competitive applicant pool.”


“After a careful consideration of your application, …”

Oh no.

“We are unable to offer you …”


“An offer of admission to our college.”


“We wish you the best in all your future endeavors!”


.... 😒

Darth Vader Noooooo

By now, you have probably shut down your computer and the feeble attempts of your parents or guardians to comfort you are not working. You’re probably waist deep in social media and wallowing in self-pity, only to see your classmates post about their admissions letters on Instagram, with one of those joyous videos taken at the moment they learn that they got admitted. How dare your dream college admit them? They went to that one party in junior year when you were preparing for the biology final! 

Then the negative thoughts and worry starts to set in: Perhaps you were simply not good enough? Are they smarter than you? More successful perhaps? Try to quash the negative self-talk and realize there are tales of many successful people getting rejected from their dream colleges, such as Jack Ma, and still excelling at life.

Even though you might not have been chosen by the school of your dreams, it does not mean that all your college prep effort is wasted. The AP classes you took will likely count towards your major, and so will the solid base of knowledge you have formed for yourself. You might even have forced yourself to do a couple of activities in high school that would look good on your resume, only to discover you were bored with even the idea of it (*cough* MUN *cough*). Even these experiences add to who you are and who you are becoming.

The important attitude to maintain here is to protect what your dream school means to you. Why did you want to go there in the first place? Was it because of the “brand name” of the school, or because of the superior higher education it gave its students? If it is the first one, even you know deep down that this logic is not sound. If it is the latter option, then every college has the potential to be your perfect match. 

Getting into a college does not guarantee your success. If anything, the more competitive the college is, the harder you’ll have to work to stay afloat even if you’re admitted to it. What will matter the most will be your attitude and how you approach the things you are being taught. Are you enthusiastic about learning, or are you just being passive while the wave of knowledge passes over you? If you have made your college list appropriately, chances are you’ll get into a pretty good college. It is now up to you to make the best of it, and the first step of this is to maintain an open mind and positive attitude while going into a new environment.

This might sound like a bunch of useless consolation, but I am writing from my personal experience. In my senior year in high school, I was a ball of stress and got rejected from every single one of my “reaches” – and I was told that I looked visibly more relaxed after I got into Michigan. Do I look back at this time of my life, where one disappointment followed another, fondly? Not exactly. Do I still have a small grudge against the colleges that rejected me? Very much so (peep me wearing an MIT sweatshirt – a college I had not applied to – just to go visit the Harvard campus – a college that I very much couldn’t get into – back in March 2019 below). But do I still wallow about my “losses” four years ago? No.

And however improbable this might sound now, neither will you. So, just lay back and enjoy the remaining days of high school, and get ready to make the best of your college years!

Lara at Harvard

Lara Mutluay
Lara Mutluay

Lara Mutluay is a senior majoring in Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB). In addition to her studies, she conducts research at Freddolino Lab in Biological Chemistry Department at the U-M Medical School. Lara is an international student from Turkey and is very passionate about climate change and how it especially affects marine ecosystems. She is currently creating her own travel blog on Instagram (@filterless.travels) where she aims to portray overly edited touristic places as they really are. In her free time, she can be found figure skating, scuba diving, reading or binge watching whatever new obsession of hers is on Netflix.