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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

What to do When You Don’t Get into Your Dream University

Each year, many students receive rejection letters from universities they had deemed their “dream school.” Rejections are never fun, but when your heart is set on attending a certain school, they’re even more difficult to bear.

Here are some ways to cope with rejection or waitlist letters from the schools you were most excited about.


It’s okay to be sad and disheartened when you don’t get into the school you’ve been dreaming about all year (or longer). It’s normal.

If you aren’t sad when you open up that rejection letter, it’s probably not your dream school. In fact, it's probably a sign you shouldn’t have applied to that school in the first place.

It’s okay to feel sad, frustrated, disappointed, and disheartened. But it's also important to take some time to think logically about the situation. You can’t take rejection letters personally.

Each year schools have to reject so many students who are well-qualified and well-suited for the school. They have to say no to hundreds of impressive students with impressive resumes. They’re not necessarily saying no because they don’t want to have you. They’re saying no because of the physical constraints of the college and the vast number of applicants they were forced to choose from.

As college application rates soar, and acceptance rates become lower and lower, the college admissions process becomes all the more complex and all the more difficult to figure out. You could have all of the right qualifications on paper and still not receive the acceptance you think you deserve.


Being waitlisted is a totally different ball game but typically doesn’t feel much better than a rejection does. This is because it still doesn’t guarantee you the option of going to your dream school.

Being waitlisted is never ideal. But it does mean the admissions officers thought you were a good fit for the school. Unfortunately, there were just too many applicants for them to offer admission straight away for everyone they thought was a good fit.

When you receive a waitlist letter, you have to decide whether or not it's worth waiting it out a bit for a possible acceptance, or moving forward with a different plan because there is no guarantee. You may not hear back about the waitlist until after the school year has started. Waiting for an acceptance letter which may never come can be tortuous and disheartening. At the same time, purely giving up on your dream school can feel the same way.


When you receive a rejection or a waitlist it’s important to reevaluate. First, ask yourself, why was it your dream university? Are there other schools you did get into which can offer similar experiences?

For instance, if it was your dream just because it was an Ivy League or was highly ranked, ask yourself, would you have been happy there or were you just seeking the reputation?

Are the schools you did get into similar in the ways that the school you were rejected from was the most desirable for you?

It’s also important to remind yourself that the institution matters less than the degree. Especially as you progress further in your career, what degree you hold matters much more than where you got it from.

Consider Your Options

The next step is to consider your options.

1) Go to another school

This is the most obvious option. If you got into another school, you can choose to go to another school. Presuming you applied to a good number of schools (see this article for guidance on how many to apply to), this hopefully should be the case.

Think about the things that made you most excited about your dream school. Which school that you got into shares some of those qualities? Which school has the most overlap? Is there one school which is a clear second choice?

2) Take a gap year

A gap year can be a great option. You can get a job, earn extra money, and gain work experience that can make you a more appealing college applicant. You can participate in an internship that fits your career aspirations and take time to enjoy hobbies that you couldn’t do while in high school.

Additionally, it can be good to take some time to reevaluate what you want out of a college, what kind of degree you’re searching for, and how important school location is for you. It can be extremely difficult to have a clear and coherent conversation with yourself about this difficult choice when you are facing a busy schedule.

Let’s be honest, finishing senior year, deciding what colleges to apply to, taking the SAT, getting recommendation letters, and trying to balance all of your extracurriculars is very difficult. It’s hard to keep a clear mind. Sometimes all we need is a few months of a calmer schedule to evaluate exactly what it is we want out of a school and which schools can offer it to us.

3) Transfer

You can either go to a community college for the first two years and then reapply to your dream school or go to another four year university for a year or two and then transfer. Some states have programs where if you go to community college for two years and perform well, you are guaranteed admission at public state schools. This can be a great option for those who don’t want to give up the chance to attend their dream university.

Additionally, it can also save money to do things this way. You end up in a better financial place while still having the opportunity to attend the school you’ve always dreamed of.

In Sum

Getting rejected is never easy, no matter what it’s for. It’s especially difficult when you get rejected from what you think is your dream school.

When this happens, it's important to let yourself feel sad and disappointed. But after you’ve given yourself time to heal, it’s also important to regroup and think critically and rationally about your options. Did you get accepted to other schools which could serve as your dream school? Could you take a gap year? Could you go to a community college and then transfer?

You do have options. Not getting into your dream school doesn’t mean that you’re destined to be unhappy at the school you do choose to attend. It could end up better than you ever imagined and you could end up happier than you ever would have been at your “dream” institution.


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