52 Weeks to College: Week 37 -- I Got Denied, Now What?

Ah decision season. The highs and the lows. There really isn't any way around the roller coaster ride that comes with getting the news from the colleges on your list. That being said, knowing what to do once you get the news can make the roller coaster ride a little less scary. Since the lows are what most fear, we'll start by walking you through what you should do if you are denied. Beyond preparing yourself for the news that is soon to arrive, you don't have much to do this week except staying on top of your school work and handling items related to financial aid. 

Week 37 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. 
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Stay on top of school work -- senioritis often sets in right about now. 
  • Check for and apply for scholarships -- this is the season for essay contests and such. Every $1000 helps!  
  • Interview for scholarships.
  • Update financial aid forms with current year tax information as soon as taxes are filed.
  • Confirm that all necessary financial aid documentation has been received by the colleges.

Tips & Tricks

1. Wallow in your misery for a short time and then move on.

Being denied by a college where you applied feels bad. So let yourself feel bad for a little bit. Allow yourself as much as 48 hours to rant, rave, cry, or just retire to your room. Do whatever you need to do to “feel your pain.”  We're not being flip here (okay maybe a little flip), but we do mean it when we say it is good to let yourself dwell in your disappointment for a defined but short period of time – it is a time honored method that supports ongoing mental and emotional health.  You just don’t want to get stuck here.  It is not productive and it is not healthy.

After your limited wallow, you’ve got to exit your feelings and move into action.  Preferably positive, constructive action.  What’s that?  Well, in our experience, for the vast majority of applicants, it is moving on to choose amongst the colleges that said yes. Let’s face it: hundreds of thousands of people are leading happy, successful lives even though they didn't get into their first choice college either! (This is of course a secret that admissions professionals try to keep you from ever knowing, but it is empirically true. No question.)  In fact, there are probably some great choices in the set of colleges that said yes. So why would you spend your energy on the college that said no rather than invest in YOUR FUTURE?  Move on, it’s time.

2. If you want a "second chance" at being admitted, there are three ways to go about it.

First, you might be able to appeal the decision.  But really, we can’t advise it. Why? Statistically it is a waste of time. In our collective years of experience as admissions officers, none of us can name a time when a decision was reversed. Thousands of decisions; most (70-90%) of them rejections; none of them reversed. The math isn't hard. Appeals are not worth the energy.

Second, you could elect to take a gap year, fortify your credentials during that year and re-apply. Odds are still against you, but we've seen applicants do some really remarkable things during a gap year and change their profiles sufficiently that they are offered admission the second time around.

Finally, you can start college somewhere else and work toward transferring. Depending upon the college, you may find that it is relatively harder or relatively easier to be admitted as a transfer than it was to be admitted as a freshman. If the odds are higher AND you have a great first two years of college, then transferring is a viable option to consider.

3. If you are denied everywhere you apply, then you'll have to regroup quickly and pursue one of the options available -- yes there are options available.

Ouch.  It is a brutal reality that you confront when you are denied everywhere you applied. You're probably feeling pretty shaken up and disoriented.  You may also be a bit mystified by how you got here.  All of that is perfectly understandable. If you find yourself in that circumstance, then you obviously have to take a moment to regroup and consider your options. But as you regroup, remember life isn’t over and you can go onto a perfectly wonderful future.  So dust yourself off and get back in the game.

Option #1:  Go to college in the fall.  It is still a possibility.  Many colleges have a “rolling decision” policy and accept applications until their classes are filled.  There are more than 200 colleges with a “rolling decision” policy that accept the Common Application.  Find them by checking out the deadlines on the application requirements chart prepared by the Common App.  You can find more colleges with later application deadlines by doing some online research or stopping by the college counseling office at your high school.  In addition, open enrollment colleges, like community colleges, often take applications up to the first day of class.

Option #2:  Take a do-over.  Want to take another stab at the whole college application process?  If so, we recommend that you do some deep analysis of what went wrong this time.  Then set about doing it differently -- take a gap year, fortify your credentials during that year and apply to a broader range of colleges next year.  

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.