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How to Handle College Rejection Letters

Getting a rejection letter from a school can be a very upsetting experience. It can feel like a massive setback. But it doesn't have to be.

It can be something to learn from and a way to improve skills you'll need as an adult. Just remember: it happens to a lot of people. And it doesn't mean you won't still get into a great school.

Ruth Lohmeyer is a high school counselor in Nebraska who also spent 10 years working in admissions at a college level. She works with high school students who have been rejected from colleges and universities. She will actually call the admissions office of the school that didn't accept the student so she can find out what it was about the student's application that didn't work. And the student will be in her office when she makes the call.

"This not only helps the student improve in any areas so they can re-submit documentation, but also helps me, as a school counselor, to act on their behalf with updating recommendation letters, helping the student resubmit an essay, etc.," she says.

"This also helps keep me stay current as I advise my younger high school students in the college application process."

Lohmeyer says she encourages students to start visiting and researching colleges and universities as early as Grade 9. She says starting early and planning is extremely important.

"It's important to not only know yourself as a student, but to only apply to the colleges/universities that match who you are and offer your interests," she says.

"Have essays proofed by your school counselor and an English teacher. Choose who writes your letters of recommendations wisely.Choose a recommender who knows your academic personality, knows the college/university you are wishing to attend and can write a personalized yet honest letter on your behalf."

But getting rejected, even if you're prepared, is never easy.

"I was disappointed, and confused," says Megan Cole, who has applied and been rejected from colleges in the past.

"The application process for master's programs in particular is time-consuming and expensive. There is also very little guidance going into it, so you do your best putting yourself out there. And then when the rejection letter comes back, you are left with few answers as to why you weren't accepted."

Cole says she wishes she had used more resources for guidance and advice about what the programs are looking for. For example, she learned that a lot of master's programs are looking for volunteer and work experience that relates to the program.

"Also, I would follow up with the people in the department about what they are looking for, so that if you choose to reapply, you are better equipped for the next time."

Rob Nicholls has also tried and failed to get into universities. He says that getting a rejection letter is a pretty normal part of applying to schools.

"A rejected application to an educational institution is part of the process in applying for higher education," he says. "One should be proud of their efforts to submit an application, yet understand what areas fell short, whether it be a low grade point average, an unimpressive letter of intent, or a CV that needs improvement."

Nicholls suggests visiting the institutions and the programs that you're interested in, when possible. He says this helps give you an idea and feeling about the program you're investing your time in. It also lets the chair and faculty members put a face to the name on your application.

"Giving yourself time to have your written materials reviewed and edited is a must," he says. "Perhaps speaking with a successful applicant about the process and how they approached their own letter of intent. The aforementioned tactics earned me successful applications."

How many schools should you apply to? Anne Kremer is an associate director of undergraduate admissions at a university in Chicago. She suggests applying to some that are highly selective, some that are moderately selective, and so on.

"The goal is that of the institutions you apply to, there are some schools on that list that you are excited about and can see yourself attending. Just because you didn't get into one doesn't mean you're not going to college. It just may mean that you're not going to that college, at least at that point."

Nicholls suggests applying to no more than three schools. "[One] highly competitive dream program and then two more local programs," he says. Applying to more will not only hurt your finances (there are often application fees), but it can also weaken your applications if you don't have as much time to spend on each one.

Cole stresses that you need to do research on each one to make sure you're applying to schools that have what you're looking for.

"Some programs specialize in different areas, and focus on specific specialties. It's good to know what that is before applying and perhaps apply to a program you really aren't interested in," she says.

Kremer says if you do get a rejection letter, try to put a positive spin on it. And then look into other options -- like transfers.

"If a student wanted to go to a four-year university, and they had a rocky junior/senior year, enroll at a community college. After a successful year or two you can reapply to the four year institution as a transfer student," she says

"You can meet with an admission advisor ahead of time and tell them "I want to transfer; this is my goal. I recognize why I didn't get admitted, but what do I need to do to transfer? I want to know what the next steps are.' It's not always closing the door forever; you need to shift that mindset and start considering other options."

Also, Kremer says that the school might have an appeals process. This isn't always an appropriate plan of action. But sometimes, it's worth a shot.

"If a student has a new test score that comes in, new grades or some big game-changing piece of information that you can provide to the institution, they can certainly ask if they have an appeal process," she says.



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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.