Making Your Next Move after a College Rejection

Two weeks ago, we talked about getting rejected from your dream school. Now that you have uncurled from your little ball of sadness, it’s time to make some decisions.

Start with this flowchart:

The most important thing to decide is whether you are absolutely set on your dream school. If you are flexible and are willing to consider other schools, there are more options open to you.

Weighing your choices

Consider trying the following:

Write out everything that appeals to you about your dream school. Be specific. “It’s Harvard…” is not a compelling reason. What is it about Harvard (sub in the name of your dream school here) that propelled it to the top of your college list?

Write down everything you can think of. Does the college offer a unique program? Were you excited about the research labs? The professors? Was there a club or organization you wished to join?

After you have your list, rank all of your reasons from most important to least important. Now, compare the school(s) you were admitted to with your dream school. How many reasons at the top of the tier does each college check off?

You may find it useful to assign a numerical value to each reason, as follows:

The school provides substantial financial aid           3

World-class research facilities                                     2

Liberal arts curriculum                                                   2

Has club/organization X                                                1

Beautiful campus                                                            1

Assign three points to the strongest reasons, two points to strong reasons, and one point to significant reasons (or whichever criteria you choose).

You could then tally up the points and see how each school matched up against the dream school. Of course, you cannot reduce the often vexing decision-making process to a simple tallying up of numbers. But it’s not about the numbers—this process is about getting you thinking.

You could even add a numerical value for aspects of your dream school you didn’t like and account for those in your tally. Is your dream school outlandishly expensive to attend? Were the class sizes too large?

Now, is there a school on your list that makes up for where the dream school lacks? 

If you simply cannot see yourself attending any college other than your dream one, you have a few options open to you.

Taking a gap year

High school students may choose to take a gap year for multiple reasons: travelling the world, exploring a passion, making some money, or getting work experience. If you are set on your dream school, your gap year may involve any of the aforementioned, but the main purpose will be to strengthen your application.

Strengthening your application may require retaking the SAT and updating your resume with internships, volunteering, or part-time work, and will most certainly require updating your admission essays.

Once you reapply, you must be ready to show the admissions committee how you have grown over the past year.

Writing a Letter of Appeal

Consider all other options before appealing your admission decision. There are two reasons for why you should hesitate to write a Letter of Appeal:

  1. In most cases, appeal letters are unwarranted, and thus discouraged by colleges.
  2. Since the likelihood of getting admitted from a Letter of Appeal is slim, writing one may simply waste your time.

Your Letter of Appeal should in no way resemble the hot letter we discussed in our previous blog post. Do not whine, blame, or beg. Most applicants feel wronged by a rejection; how are you different?

Are you able to provide the admissions committee with new and compelling information?

“New” refers to developments since the time of your application and the definition of “compelling” will vary by college. Some colleges will consider only changes to your GPA, while others may take into account new awards, activities, or achievements.

Note: Some colleges will not consider an appeal at all. Comb through your dream school’s website for policy on appeals or (tactfully) inquire at the admissions office by phone or email.

Are you able to re-contextualize your application?

If your college accepts appeals, then the admissions officer will read your letter and then review your original application once more. What should the admissions offices keep in mind while re-reading your application?

For example, is there something that you failed to mention in your original application that explains a low GPA?

Are you able to compromise?

If you applied to a highly selective program, you likely got beat out by stronger candidates. Are you willing to consider another program if that meant you could attend your dream school? If so, indicate that on your letter and express interest in a less competitive program.

Finally, as with the Letter of Continued Interest, assure your dream college that if admitted, you will attend.

You may also consider attending another school while making a contingency plan to transfer.


If you choose to transfer after your first semester, your dream college will still likely consider your high school grades and activities.

If you transfer a year after starting college or later, your dream school may not consider your high school profile at all, or else give that consideration less weight than what you did in college.

College is a big change from high school, and your grades are more likely to drop than rise. And this is not a bad thing! Most students take a GPA dive in the first couple of semesters as they get accustomed to a new learning environment and grading standards.

As a potential transfer student, however, you will not be given the luxury to take a dive in GPA. In order to successfully transfer, you need a strong transfer applicant profile. Ask yourself, will transferring be worth the inevitable stress?

Before you go…

Remember, an option that works for another person, may not work for you. Make your decision based on your circumstances and priorities only.

Whichever option you choose, may your decision serve you well!

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