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College Decisions: Dealing with Disappointment (Repost)

This post by Ava Slocum was originally published on April 3, 2021. 

Now that we've reached the beginning of April, most high school seniors will soon receive the last of their decisions from colleges. For many people, the last few months of school is a thrilling time of year, made even more exciting by good college news. However, in what was, by many accounts, a brutal year for college admissions, there’s bound to be some disappointment as students receive a few less favorable outcomes along with their acceptances.

We’ve spoken to three 2020 high school graduates (now current college students!) about their own experiences with college decisions last spring. They’ve provided some wonderful tips for how to handle any response from a college and make the most of your ultimate college experience.

Rejection hurts

Olivia M., who applied primarily to film programs, had specific considerations when she was deciding where to apply. Her top three colleges all offered hands-on film classes and were located in the LA area, and her acceptance to only one of these three schools made her final choice comparatively easy. “The results still hurt when I got rejected though,” she says. “Getting rejected by a school I loved made me feel like I had to replan my future, and getting rejected by a school I knew I would not have chosen made me feel entitled and insulted. Emotions were heightened because I had more time to focus on the results with the quarantine.”

Several days later, Olivia M. received another acceptance from a fourth school, where she had been waitlisted at first. However, that college was no longer high on her list, and so she ended up sticking with her first option. For the other colleges, some of her top choices, she said she is still upset that she was not accepted. However, they “made me want to become successful in spite of their denials, which I still plan to do.”

To current high school seniors in the same boat, she advises, “In a few years time, titles, schools, and competitiveness is not going to matter… It does not matter if you get in ED, RD, or after a waitlist. What matters is that you got in. No one will care on campus that you were waitlisted, no one will treat you differently. There is no point in worrying and doubting, just wait and hope for the best.”

This is my path

Olivia K., another first-year college student, was also rejected by her two top choices. “It definitely stung hearing about the many students in my high school class who got accepted,” she remembers. “What helped most was the reassurance I gave myself—that this is my path, and just because I wasn’t accepted as a freshman doesn’t mean that I’m not ever going to be successful in the rest of my educational journey.”

From the beginning of her college search, Olivia K. was interested in attending USC. When she was offered their Trojan Transfer Plan as a potential option after being denied, she decided to start at a community college with the aim of fulfilling her transfer requirements. I asked her if she’s been happy with her college experience so far, and she said, “Absolutely… I cannot emphasize enough what an amazing experience it has been.”

For high schoolers considering a similar path, she stresses, “There is such a stigma around community colleges. Let me tell you, from someone who initially was not too enthusiastic about ending up at a community college, how false this is. My experience at CC was completely unexpected, but it has been great. Plus, you save so much money because the first two years of college are solely for completing GE courses, which can be done anywhere… Whether you attend [CC] with the purpose of earning your degree or transferring out (or you’re still deciding!), you are choosing to pursue education. That is something to be proud of."

Make the most of it

Jojo, also in her first year of college, didn’t get into every school she hoped she would and found it difficult to decide where she wanted to go to college. “It can be really hard to define happiness when it comes to this,” she says. “There are going to be issues, of course, when going to any school, and attending school when there is a whole pandemic going on certainly doesn’t help.”

However, she learned how to deal with her disappointment. “I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but I learned to cope by appreciating the many wonderful colleges that did accept me instead of reflecting on the small amount of colleges that didn’t.” So far, Jojo has enjoyed her first year of college for the most part. “I can say that I do love my teachers, what I am learning, and the environment here. It is starting to feel like a home and a place of comfort for me.”

“For people just now getting decisions back from colleges, I would tell them to relax and not stress out too much about this,” Jojo recommends. “I know some people might not want to hear this as this decision is a big part of their lives, but I honestly believe that no matter where they end up going, they can make the best of it!” She added, “This whole process was about colleges selecting you… Well, it’s your turn now. You get to determine whether or not these places are worthy of YOUR talents, so make the most of it!”

Be kind to yourself

Even if you’re happy with the schools where you got in, April can still be a difficult month when it comes to processing emotions and disappointment from rejections. So, what can students do in the meantime to remain upbeat about the options open to them?

Olivia K. suggests that current high schoolers try hard to be kind to themselves, especially with regard to social media. “Doom scrolling on social media is inevitable. We all do it. Especially once those decisions come out and you see all the people who got into that school you really wanted to get into, it is the absolute worst feeling. My heart sank once I saw how many people from my school got into USC and were putting ‘USC ’24’ in their bios and I wasn’t one of them.”

However, she was quick to add, “Let me assure you that whatever path you end up on, it will be the right one. It might not be that at first—I was not happy about ending up at a community college after spending MONTHS working on applications and YEARS bulking up my resume with extracurricular activities. Even if you end up going to a school that wasn’t your first choice, it will set you on the right path and you may learn some valuable lessons along the way. You will be okay, I promise.”

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