The 5 Stages Of College Rejection: How To Handle Disappointment

For graduating high school seniors, every day of college decision season holds the promise of being the best day ever. Today could be the day when that (hopefully) thick envelope, or that long congratulatory email, the ticket into your dream school, finally appears.

But for some, when that envelope finally does arrive, it is…normal-sized.

Being waitlisted or rejected can feel like the end of the world — especially if you are counting on getting in. But it’s important to remember the world of opportunities still open to you, even if your dream school says “no” or “not right now.”

As you prepare for the day when your decision letter finally arrives, and if, when that day comes, the answer isn’t what you were hoping for, keep these five stages for handling college rejection in mind. Because no matter what it feels like in the moment, we promise that you will be okay.

Stage 1: Anger

You may have been rejected from your dream school. Or maybe you were accepted to your dream school, but you will not be able to afford it. Whatever the situation, know this: you are allowed to be angry. Your frustration and disappointment are completely justified — this was something that you really wanted. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling, and then do your best to let it go. Because the good news is that you’re probably sitting next to a pile of acceptance letters from colleges who would love for you to accept them back.

Stage 2: Tears…lots of Tears

College decision season tears come in two varieties: tears of joy and tears of heartbreak. If you’re crying because you just got accepted to your dream school, congrats! But there really is nothing quite like the sadness you feel when you don’t reach a goal or when you have to let go of something that you worked hard for. Just like with anger, it’s okay to feel upset about a rejection or waitlist letter.

Don’t worry about putting on a brave face, or hiding your true feelings. Eventually, after a week or so, you’ll start to gain some perspective on the situation. It’s not the end of the world, just the end of this goal. Chances are, there’s something even better waiting for you — even if you can’t see it just yet!

Stage 3: Confusion

Where do you go from here? How do you pick a new future? What’s next? When you spent the last four years (or more) of your life envisioning yourself at a certain school, it can be completely disorienting to have to change that vision. There’s nothing wrong with being confused — after all, your academic plans are changing in ways you hadn’t predicted.

Remember that the whole world is spread out in front of you. Reevaluate what you really want out of life; you might find real happiness and satisfaction at a school you never anticipated attending.

Stage 4: Excitement

Suddenly, the possibilities are endless again. After the confusion, anger and sadness subside, you’ll finally realize that your potential is up to you and not the name of the college you attend. Your future can’t be decided by college rankings; ultimately it’s what you do once you get to wherever you are going that matters most.

It’s time to break out that stack of acceptance letters, and start dreaming of new goals. Maybe there’s a school you overlooked with a fabulous study abroad program. Or a school with a great basketball program that you can cheer on every weekend. When you’re 18, the possibilities truly are endless. Embrace it, and be excited about what’s to come over the next four years.

Stage 5: Acceptance & Clarity

Chances are this step won’t come for another few weeks. For some students, it may come several months from now when the freshman year has finally started. One day, as you’re walking to class and you breathe in the fall air, step on a few of those perfectly crunchy autumn leaves, it will hit you: you’re in college. COLLEGE. You’ll look around and realize that everything turned out completely right. You’re exactly where you need to be.