The Five Stages of Handling College Rejection

For graduating high school seniors, every day of college decision season holds the promise of being the best day ever. Today could be the day when that (hopefully) thick envelope, the ticket into your dream school, finally appears.

For graduating high school seniors, every day of college decision season holds the promise of being the best day ever. Today could be the day when that (hopefully) thick envelope, the ticket into your dream school, finally appears.

But for me, when that envelope finally did arrive, it was...normal-sized. I opened the precariously thin envelope and saw that dreaded word: waitlisted.

Waitlisted? No. There must have been a mistake.

Fast forward three years, and it turns out, I am at my "dream school"...but not the one I originally planned on. Once I saw one door close, I actually realized the world of opportunities that I still had open to me. The world was by no means over. In fact, it was just beginning.

So as you prepare for the day when your anticipated decision letter finally arrives and the answer isn't what you expected, keep these five stages in mind. Because no matter what it feels like right now, I promise that you will be okay.

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1. Anger

You may have been rejected from your dream school. Or maybe you were accepted to your dream school, but may not be able to afford it. Whatever the situation, know this: you are allowed to be angry. Your feelings are completely justified if it was something that you really wanted. Feel what you're feeling, and then do your best to let it go. Because the good news is that you're probably sitting next to a pile of actual acceptance letters from colleges chomping at the bit for you to accept them back.

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2. Tears...lots of Tears

College decision season tears come in two varieties: tears of joy and tears of heartbreak. If you're crying because you just got accepted to your dream school, congrats! But if you're like me, there's nothing quite like the sadness you feel when you don't reach a goal or when you have to let go of something you worked hard for. Just like with anger, it's okay to feel upset about a rejection or waitlist letter.

I got waitlisted by my "dream school" and literally minutes after having my academic heart broken, I had to go to work. I looked like somebody just ran my puppy over with a car. I couldn't hide it, I was bummed. But eventually, after a week or so, you'll start to gain some perspective on the situation. It's not the end of the world, just the end of this goal. Chances are, there's something even better waiting for you now-- there was for me!

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3. Confusion

Where do you go from here? How do you pick a new future? What's next for me? When you spent the last four years (or more) of your life envisioning yourself at a certain school, it can be completely disorienting to have to change that vision. When I didn't get into my first choice school, at first, I was confused. I had no idea what I wanted anymore because so much of my life plan at that point hinged on my attending one specific school.

But you know what? I took a step back and suddenly realized that the world lay spread before me. It gave me a chance to really reevaluate what I wanted out of my life, in a less biased way than when I thought I had to go to a particular school to be happy. In the end, I chose a large state school (the complete opposite of what I thought I wanted). And you know what? I love every second of it (I assure you, 10th grade me would be completely shocked to read that).

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4. Excitement

Suddenly, the possibilities are endless again. For me, it ended up being more exciting than anything else to think about the entire world of opportunities that opened for me as my "dream" closed. After the confusion, anger and sadness subside, you'll finally realize that your potential is up to you and not the name of the college you attend. Your future can't be decided by college rankings; ultimately it's what you do once you get to wherever you are going that matters most.

It's time to break out that stack of acceptance letters, and start dreaming of new goals. Maybe there's a school you overlooked with a fabulous study abroad program. Or a school with a great basketball program that you can cheer on every weekend. When you're 18, the possibilities truly are endless. Embrace it, and be excited about what's yet to come in the next four years.

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5. Acceptance & Clarity

So chances are this step won't come for another few weeks, or if you're like me, your first semester away at school. But one day, as you're walking to class and you breathe in the fall air, step on a few of those perfectly crunchy autumn leaves, it hits you: you're in college. COLLEGE. You'll look around and realize that everything turned out completely right. You're exactly where you need to be.

Suddenly, you'll think to yourself that Asher Roth was on to something: I love college, too.

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Read more about college admissions:

Manage Your Stress While Waiting to Hear Back From Colleges

Debunking the College Admissions Myth

College Admissions: Is Passion Really Required?

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