No College Has Accepted Me -- What Now?


I got my final college notification this weekend and it was another denial. I applied to six schools and was denied at all but one. I am on the waitlist at that one, so I called the admissions office there, and the rep said I may not hear further notification for a few months -- maybe not even until May! So do I just wait on that or do I somehow apply to more colleges at this late stage? For reasons I don't want to go into, staying home for a while and trying again next year or attending community college aren't options. I need to get out of my town.

Sorry to hear about your college verdicts so far. Maybe the college that wait-listed you will finally come through with some good news. However, “The Dean" suspects that it will drive you nuts to hang on until May when you hear. So in the meantime, here's what you can do:

Research colleges that have late application deadlines (or no deadlines at all). You may be surprised to learn that there are many good (and popular) institutions that are still accepting applications. If you Google “colleges with late application dates," you will get numerous hits. Here are a few places to start:

- This site lists colleges with late application dates by month -- so you can scroll past the February deadlines list (that ship has sailed!) and focus on March and thereafter. You will see that there are lots of choices .... even in August! (Warning: Always double-check deadline information that you find online to make sure it's up-to-date. If you spot colleges on these lists that interest you, go straight to their websites to confirm that the deadlines haven't changed — or that you haven't missed deadlines for housing or for financial aid, if needed.)

- If you use the College Board's Big Future search, you can plug in all your preferences for size, location, majors, etc. Then under the “Test Scores and Selectivity" heading, tick the boxes for “Open Admission" and “Less Selective." Although some of the colleges that come up on your “Results" list will have deadlines that have passed, it's common for the more selective colleges to have early deadlines while the rest will welcome applications right through the spring or beyond. You can even try the “Somewhat Selective" group as well. Scrutinize not only the deadlines but also the admission statistics (median test scores, GPA, etc.) so that you make certain that — this time — you are choosing target colleges that highly likely to admit you. The College Board also publishes lists of deadlines by month.

- You may have already applied to colleges via the Common Application and are familiar with it. Now you can revisit the Common App site and find the requirements grid that provides deadlines for all Common App schools. Many Common App members have late deadlines or rolling admissions (meaning that they will continue to accept applications until their class is full). And even better news if you've already completed a Common App: Usually the later the deadline, the less likely it is that you'll encounter an annoying supplement with extra essays to write!

Finding new colleges to consider should keep you busy until your waitlist news arrives. Meanwhile, you should also send an “Update Letter" to the college that has wait-listed you. This letter should include the following details:

- Your strong desire to enroll. If you will definitely enroll if accepted, be sure to say so.

- A few reasons why this school is right for you and vice versa. Include a couple academic reasons, although personal reasons are fine, too. And the more specific you can be, the better. For instance, instead of saying, “You offer an education major," you would say, “You offer a certification program for teachers of students with moderate special needs, which is my career goal, based on the three years of volunteer work I've done in my local elementary school." You can also say how you might contribute to the campus community. (“As a marching band member for four years, I hope to continue in college next fall.")

- A few of your achievements since you applied. You don't have to claim that you cured cancer or won Teen Jeopardy. Your “achievements" can be a simple as, “I earned a grade over 80 in math for the first time ever" or “I was chosen for a soloist's role in the spring musical."

Seniors who have already been admitted to college are required to decide which college they will attend no later than May 1. Some colleges will start accepting students from the waitlist before then, but most don't know how many spaces they will have until all of the accepted students have committed. So, if you get good news from your waitlist school, it probably won't be until early May.

Another thing that happens after May 1 is that the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) publishes its annual directory of colleges that still have vacancies. The list will include schools that had deadlines that passed many months ago but that didn't receive as many commitments from accepted students as expected. So, a few days after May 1, you can search for “NACAC College Openings Update." The NACAC roster will specify which colleges have openings and if financial aid and housing are still available, too. Every year I spot several well-known, competitive colleges on the list, along with many lesser-known schools -- here you can see our coverage of last year's list. (Hint: When you read through the NACAC update, be sure to focus on the colleges that have room for freshmen, since transfer openings are included, too.)

Finally, if you don't zero in on a college to attend next fall but can't stay at home, consider an AmeriCorps program. These are 10-month community service opportunities that actually pay a stipend to their “volunteers" — all of whom are 18 to 24 years old. You will live with other Corps members in locations around the country. For more information, see the following:

AmeriCorps NCCC: You'll travel to varied locations during a stint in this program. Deadlines are April 1 or July 1, depending on preferred start date (summer or fall).

CityYear: You'll live in one of many participating cities and work in the local public schools. There are several application deadlines, with the latest on May 31. (Early birds have more choice of location.)

Although I'm sure it's disappointing to receive so many college denials, I'm still convinced that this crazy process often ends in a meant-to-be way. So you may one day look back and realize that you weren't really rejected, just redirected.

Happy hunting!


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