What Should I Do If I Get a College Rejection Letter?

10/04/202316 minute read
What Should I Do If I Get a College Rejection Letter?

You spent four long years studying, testing, and building a solid resume of extracurriculars. Your hard work finally culminated with an experience-packed college application that brilliantly highlighted all your accomplishments. You applied to the college of your dreams with every hope that they would see your brilliance and warmly welcome you to their family. Then, the unthinkable happens. You get a college rejection letter.

Intelligent and hard-working students across the globe experience this exact situation each year. Some of the brightest students in the world get rejected from their dream college. If this scenario is you, don’t give up yet! You still have options. For those still in the trenches of high school, this blog will help you plan ahead to ensure that you have the best possible chance of getting into one of your top schools.

Top schools have received record number of applications and acceptance rates are at their lowest. So do not be dejected if you get a rejection letter.

What if I get rejected from my dream college?

After the initial shock, you’re probably left with many questions. What do I do now? Is there still a chance I can still get into my dream college? Can I reapply? What do deferred and waitlisted mean?

If you get a rejection letter, first take a deep breath. Do not take the rejection personally and start considering your options.

Can I still get into my dream college if I get a rejection letter?

It depends on when you apply (early or regular round) and if you received a deferral, waitlist, or rejection letter. Let’s take a look at each term.

- What does deferred mean?

When you apply under an early decision or early action plan, you will get a letter from the college saying you’re accepted, denied, or deferred. If you get a deferral letter, that means they still want to consider you for acceptance in the regular decision round. You don’t have to reapply because the university holds on to your original application.

While all schools hold on to your application, some might ask you to write a letter confirming your interest. This is an excellent opportunity to tell them why their school is perfect for you. It’s also good to upload any new information that might enhance your application to the university portal. Your updates might include anything you accomplished after you submitted your application. Additional letters of recommendation, grades, or extracurricular updates will help your application stand out from the rest.

Although you’re probably disappointed you didn’t get an acceptance letter, a deferral letter isn’t a no, but it’s also not a yes. Don’t forget to focus on your backup plan. Submit college applications to schools in your safety, target, and reach categories!

- What does waitlisted mean?

Students who apply during the regular round might receive a letter telling them they’re waitlisted. This means they were not offered admission, but the college still likes them and might have an opening for them after admitted students commit to their final choice. If you have your heart set on this school, accept a spot on the waitlist. If you decide not to attend, you can always withdraw your application.

What are the chances of getting in as a waitlisted student?

According to recent data from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, colleges on average admit 20% of students off the waitlist. At the most selective institutions, that figure was 7%. This number significantly varies based on final admission numbers which don’t come in until August.

- What does a rejection letter mean?

Rejection letters can come in the early decision/early action round and in the regular admissions round. Suppose you receive a rejection letter in the ED/EA round. In that case, you cannot reapply to that school in the regular decision round. If you receive a rejection letter during the regular round, you cannot attend that school.

Although rejection or denial letters are disappointing, they might be just what you need to re-evaluate your goals and reassess your college choices. Suppose the rejection letter came in the early round. In that case, you can still apply to other schools you’re interested in during the regular round. To increase your chances of getting into a great college, remember to apply to target, reach, and safety schools.

If you get denied in the regular round and don’t have a backup plan, you still have a few options:

  • Consider applying to a college that accepts applications year-round or whose application window hasn’t closed yet.
  • Take a year off to explore the world and reassess your goals.
  • Attend a community college and take transferable general education classes.
  • Apply to a four-year university the following year with a revised application that includes your current grades and additional accomplishments.

Can I appeal a college rejection letter?

Some schools accept appeal letters, but they typically aren’t successful. If you can’t imagine yourself at any other school, you can write one and see what happens. But if you’re just upset, an appeal letter isn’t a great idea.

While Crimson can’t guarantee admission to every college you apply for, we can help you build a robust application, so you have the highest possible chance of getting into your dream school.

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Have a Backup Plan

Everyone wants to get into their top school. The reality is that there are limited spots at each college, and the more competitive the college, the harder it is to get in. Even top scholars don’t always get into their top choice.**

That’s why you need a backup plan.

How do I create a college backup plan?

To ensure you get into one of your top choices for college, start by making a list of reach, target, and safety schools.

Reach (Choose 2-3 schools)

Your reach school is probably your dream school. It’s the one you’ve always pictured yourself attending. Your chances of getting into these highly selective schools are extremely low. Ivy League schools fall into this category. Since the acceptance rates for these schools are notoriously low, getting in is less about your qualifications and more about luck. Obviously, if your test scores and grades fall into the accepted range, your chances of getting in are higher. Still, even then, the best of the best don’t always get accepted. If your qualifications don’t meet the school’s average qualifications, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply. There’s always a chance your essays or extracurriculars might help you get in. It doesn’t hurt to try!

Target (Choose 2-3 schools)

A target school is one where your grades and qualifications fall into the accepted range of the school’s most recently admitted class. Even if you can’t guarantee admission, you know you have at least a 40-60% chance of getting accepted.

Safety Schools (Choose 1-2 schools)

Safety schools (backup schools) are the ones you’re pretty confident you can get into. Your grades, test scores, and class ranking are much higher than the school’s average for admitted students. Even though these schools might be your “last resort” schools, it doesn’t mean they’re terrible schools. Choose a safety school that offers the same programs as your reach schools and one you can picture yourself attending.

*Ivy League schools are not safety schools.

Check out this blog to learn more about reach, target, and safety schools.

Acceptance Rates of Top Universities

The world’s top universities, especially the Ivy League, have extremely low acceptance rates. Here are just some of the top US universities' Class of 2025 acceptance rates.

Top College Acceptance Rates for 2027
SchoolClass of 2027 Admission Rate
Amherst College9%
Brown University 5.09%
California Institute of Technology3.9%
Columbia University3.90%
Dartmouth College6.23%
Harvard University3.41%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology4.68%
New York University8%
Notre Dame University11.9%
Tufts University9.50%
University of Southern California9.8%
University of Virginia13.4%
Wellesley College13%
Williams College9.8%
Yale University4.35%
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One Simple Tip That Will Increase Your Chances of Getting into Your Dream College

Submit a complete, thoughtful, and thorough application

As simple as this sounds, a college application includes many parts, and it’s easy to overlook a section or think it’s not that important.

Don’t underestimate the value of any part of the college application. Each piece of your application is designed to reveal an important aspect of you! It’s your opportunity to tell your story, explain your breadth and depth of knowledge, and tell them why you’re the perfect fit for their school.

Final Thoughts

Many students get rejected from college. This is especially true for students who apply to highly selective colleges. While no one enjoys receiving these letters, you can learn a lot through this process. You’ll learn how to handle rejection and how to move on. A rejection letter also gives you the opportunity to re-evaluate and maybe even realize your Plan B was even more rewarding than the original plan.

A strong college application will reduce your chances of rejection. Our college admission experts can help you build your application and achieve your academic goals.