A Brief Word about Bad News

I’ve been advising high school seniors and their families on matters of college admissions since the late 1980s. I can’t believe how quickly the decades have flown by. I’ve given a fair number of media interviews, written a book and countless articles, blog posts, and newspaper columns, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with more young people and their parents than I can recall.

Throughout all of this, there comes a moment when idealism meets reality, when (to coin a weird metaphor) the rubber of college dreams engages the many times rough road of bad news: being denied acceptance to the college of your dreams. The disappointment of these moments is not lost on those of us who become involved in your hopes and dreams. It’s a serious moment at the end of a long and sometimes grueling process.


Today, I’d like to bring out a few words that I’ve written in the past about dealing with rejection. Day after tomorrow will bring admission decisions to all those who have applied to the Ivy League. Some of you non-Ivy applicants may have already received your decisions and some of you may be getting them after this week.

For all of you, though, please keep my words in mind as you go on to make your enrollment decisions. Of course, financial considerations may play a dominant role in where you end up. However, beyond money issues lie those of self-esteem and personal pride … and that leads me to say this:

  • Getting a rejection letter from a college or university doesn’t make you a bad person. Unfortunately, some high school seniors see themselves in a less-than-positive light when they read the bad news from a highly desired institution.
  • Dealing with rejection is difficult. Most high schoolers tend to take being turned down by a college or university on a personal level. They seem to think that the letter from the admissions office is really saying something like, “You are deficient and we don’t want to have anything to do with you.” Nothing could be further from the truth.


  • The truth is that in a lot of cases some rejected students could have done as well, if not better, than those who were accepted. This isn’t a rationalization or sour grapes. At schools where there is a significantly larger number of applications than seats (schools whose acceptance rate is 50 percent or less), there just isn’t room for all the qualified applicants.
  • This fact is borne out by the so-called waitlist. A waitlist is a group of “in-betweeners” who haven’t been rejected but haven’t been admitted. They will be offered admission if the number of enrollments doesn’t meet expectations for the incoming freshman class. One famous dean of admission said that his institution received so many outstanding applications that he didn’t have the heart to send rejection letters. He noted that placing these fine young men and women on the waitlist was his way of saying, “We should have admitted you, but we just didn’t have room.” Such is the case with many good colleges. All who are good enough to get in aren’t always offered admission.


  • Take a little time to feel disappointed about not getting into your most-desired school(s). It’s perfectly natural to feel bad. Don’t dwell on it, though, and, by all means, don’t develop an obsessive attitude about it.
  • Don’t hate the schools that have rejected your application. Don’t view successful candidates as elitist snobs. Accept the fact that you didn’t make the cut — for whatever reason — and get on with your life.
  • Embrace those schools that have embraced you. Select the one that best suits your needs and prepare to have a great college experience.

Yes, indeed; there is life after rejection. You all have my best wishes for success Thursday … and beyond!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.