Reapplying to Colleges that Said NO

Question: This March, I was accepted to Claremont McKenna College, but I was rejected by most of my top choice colleges, like Stanford, Williams, and Brown. Even though CMC is a very prestigious college renowned for happiest campus life, I still can't brush aside my obsession toward my top choices and still feel so dejected.

Taking a gap year was my first thought. The first and foremost thing I would like to do during the gap year is to retake SAT and increase my score, because my low SAT should had been one of the biggest reasons I was rejected. Then I will focus on maintaining community service regarding human rights I used to do as the club leader and other ECs during HS periods.

I wonder if this is good idea, and maybe it's just that my obsession that hinders me from seeing my situation objectively. Could you please help me to make right decision?

It's a confusing time of year when many seniors seem focused on the colleges that said “No" rather than on some pretty terrific places that are rolling out the welcome mat. Yes, high school classrooms and cafeterias are overflowing this month with students who felt that they did everything “right" and yet got bad news from their top-choice colleges. Some of these students have made peace with their verdicts by now while others, like you, are still fretting over having loved and lost.

“The Dean" is 99% sure that a reapplication to the places that turned you down this year will not change your outcomes. These hyper-competitive schools deny admission to thousands of students who are not only fully qualified to attend but also head-spinningly impressive. In fact, it's common for an admission official to support the acceptance of a favored candidate and yet, ultimately, that student is turned away. There simply isn't room in the freshman class for every outstanding applicant, and colleges can make decisions based on factors that are beyond a student's control (e.g., “Yep, he's a great drummer, but he's from Connecticut, and we already have drummers from Wyoming and South Dakota —our most underrepresented states" or “She's from West High School and we've taken four kids from West over the past three years and no one from East High, so we'll give the spot to that girl from East this time.")

In addition, colleges are really not interested in improved standardized scores taken beyond high school except in atypical cases (more on this in a minute). So you would definitely be wasting your time if you were to spend part of a gap year focusing on SAT's.

The school you plan to attend—Claremont McKenna—is highly respected, as you know, and many teenagers would give a lot to be in your shoes. (Personally, as a Massachusetts resident who can't bear the thought of yet another New England winter like this past one, “The Dean" would take CMC in a heartbeat over Williams—which is not only cold for most of the academic year but also in the middle of nowhere–and possibly over Brown.)

But if you simply can't get excited about the choice that you have and would rather pursue others, you could consider a “Post-Graduate Year" in a private high school. A lot of boarding schools offer the “PG" option, but it is most commonly elected by athletes who want to develop more prowess in their sport before playing it on the college level. PG students take high school classes and almost always re-take the SAT or ACT. Colleges definitely consider these new test scores because they are interested in recruiting athletes who meet at least their minimum admission standards and, without new test results, these athletes may not.

While some students who are not athletes also take a PG year and benefit from improved test results, this is rare. And, in most cases, when these students reapply to colleges that said no to them the previous year, the decisions do not change.

So I think that your best plan is to try to get psyched about the wonderful possibility that you do have. For a helpful morale-booster, trying reading some of the CMC threads on College Confidential. Go to There you will see posts from students who would love to be in your shoes as well as from those who turned down places like Dartmouth, Cornell, Wesleyan Rice and Berkeley to attend CMC. (How's that for a little pick-me-up? 😉 )

Also, have you visited CMC since being accepted or attended admitted-student functions close to home? Have you joined a CMC Class of 2019 Facebook group?

If you've done all of this, and you're still not excited about CMC, you can certainly opt for a gap year … but do so with the understanding that you should apply to a new list of colleges next fall (ugh! All those essays … again!) as well as to the places that have already turned you down, if your “obsession" still looms. (And don't lose sight of the fact that your odds won't be good at the places that didn't accept you this time around.) And if you do decide to take that route, “The Dean" recommends that you deposit at CMC now and ask for a deferral, with the understanding that you may lose your deposit if you eventually enroll elsewhere.

But before you do anything rash, remember that learning to deal with rejection and moving on is an important life skill, and so, because you have such a wonderful option in CMC, perhaps you can practice this skill right now!

Good luck, whatever you decide.