Facing a College Rejection Letter: How Do We Cope with the Resulting Disappointment?

The college process is more than daunting, but don’t let it define you.

The expectation of attending an Ivy League or Top Ten university plagues the apt minds of students and parents alike. Middle school compassion shifts to high school hostility; the classroom once filled with joyous chatter grows silent with competitive gatekeeping. Model UN awards are one-upped by self-funded nonprofits and honors classes are dominated by APs. The quest for a college acceptance letter fuels an anxious, toxic learning environment. The stress ultimately stems from parents. Their subliminal obsession with grades and extracurriculars snowballs into repetitive meetings with teachers. Children that once believed the world was ripe for their taking are now taught that their chances sour without a prestigious college degree. The college we attend is no longer a place to learn and grow; rather, it becomes an evaluation of our intelligence and potential to succeed.

Finally, the strain of the past four years amounts to the inevitable day in December when early decision and early action results arrive. Applicants nervously hover their computers, awaiting the appearance of the “status update” button— the very thing that has the potential to burn their confidence and breed feelings of failure. The college rejection letter is inescapable, especially for those applying to top colleges with less than ten percent acceptance rates. Rejection often feels like a personal attack and negative assessment of one’s intellect; it is normal to feel sad after a rejection letter, which is said to be “the first disappointment of its kind in a young person's life.” However, rejection is simply redirection and may lead to greater opportunities later. 

A rejection letter may be so upsetting that it triggers a downward spiral of one’s mental health, causing depression and anxiety. However, these conditions can be combated with proper coping mechanisms and steps. One technique is simply acknowledging the feelings associated with rejection. Individuals should properly grieve in order to revitalize and accept the next necessary steps. Adopting a growth mindset is a more introspective, complex tactic to overcome these overwhelming feelings; it establishes that intelligence is developed through hard work and help, not fate or genetics. This mindset allows learners to face hardship without abandoning their goals. 

These coping mechanisms should be paired with the proper follow-up steps. Applicants must begin researching other colleges and even consider touring the campuses. They should attend meetings or discussions with students at these institutions to learn more about campus life and build excitement for their options. If the student is truly not happy with the college that they end up attending, then transferring to another college may be an option; this will require them to stand out at their college and maintain good grades and relationships with their professors. The depression caused by a college rejection may linger for more than a few weeks and require professional help from a therapist. Despite the stigma surrounding therapy, it is not embarrassing, nor a sign of weakness; rather, it is an opportunity to better oneself and navigate the intricate waters of mental health. A therapist can offer broader insight and help teenagers persevere past their rejection.

The college process is more than daunting, but don’t let it define you. Self-worth is not determined by the college name that is plastered across a sweatshirt, but rather a culmination of tenacity and effort.

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