What If I Wasn’t Accepted to Any College?
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For most college applicants, college acceptance season is a mixed bag of emotions; the sting of rejection is tempered by the joy of acceptance, and in the end, you’ll have something to celebrate as you move on from high school. But what if the worst happens and you aren’t accepted to any of the colleges you’ve applied to?
When you’re considering college applications, that scenario has probably shown up in your nightmares once or twice. It isn’t a common occurrence, especially if you choose your prospective colleges strategically, but sometimes it really does happen.
If you’re staring down a full slate of rejections, remember that as devastating as being turned down may feel in the moment, it’s absolutely not the end of the line for you! While not being accepted to any of your chosen colleges is discouraging and frustrating, it’s not personal, and it doesn’t mean that you’re “not good enough.”
There are many factors outside of your control that influence admissions decisions, and colleges reject many talented and qualified students every year. Very competitive colleges with large, strong applicant pools should always be considered a reach, even if your application is stellar; those schools simply can’t accept all of the qualified students who apply.
Even colleges that fall into your “safety” or “target” rankings may not accept you if they feel that you are unlikely to actually attend. (This tactic helps those schools to keep their admissions rates low and their yields high.)
Chances are, not being accepted to any of the colleges you applied to is simply a matter of abysmally bad luck. That’s a difficult thing to endure, but don’t give up now! Admissions decisions may be out of your hands in the end, but you still have the opportunity for a positive outcome with a little more hard work and persistence.
While asking for an admissions decision to be reconsidered is only appropriate in rare cases, a second chance may be possible, either through attending community college and then applying to your preferred school(s) as a transfer student, or by taking a gap year and reapplying to your preferred school(s) in the next admissions cycle.
In this post, we’ll go over your options for dealing with this setback, and discuss what you’ll have to do to keep your college plans and future ambitions on track in the face of rejection.
The Appeal Option
You probably feel like the admissions committee made a mistake in not accepting you. That’s a reasonable feeling to have, even if sending your admissions representative a long email about how great you are and how big of a mistake they’ve made is never a good idea.
But what if there’s a genuine reason to believe that your application didn’t accurately represent you? Under particular circumstances, like if you believe a clerical error was made in processing your grades, test scores, or another aspect of your application, asking a college to reconsider their admission decision may be an option.
However, you should keep in mind that appealing your rejection is very seldom successful. The admissions committee has already read and considered your application once, and is unlikely to make a different decision the second time around.
Some colleges, especially public schools, have formal appeals processes already in place. Most of these will only consider an appeal if you can demonstrate that a factual error was made somewhere in your application or in its evaluation. Many other schools, especially private schools like those in the Ivy League, don’t allow appeals under any circumstances.
A few colleges may be willing to take another look at your application if your situation has changed substantially for the better since you first applied- for instance, if your grades or test scores have improved dramatically- but this is not common. Your admissions representative may be able to tell you where your initial application was weakest and whether it might be worthwhile for you to appeal.
Remember, you can’t appeal an admissions decision just because you disagree with it, and appearing entitled or demanding will only reinforce the admissions committee’s decision to reject you.
If you determine that an appeal is justified and appropriate, you’ll need to write a formal letter to the college’s admissions office and include any evidence you can gather as to why you believe your application should be reconsidered. (We’ll cover this process in greater detail in another blog post.)
Be concise, specific, and above all, respectful. Recognize that the process of making admissions decisions is complex, and that even if the circumstances really are exceptional, you’re not likely to achieve admission through this route.
Even if yours is one of the rare cases in which an appeal is appropriate, you should also begin working on your backup plan as soon as possible. You have two major options: to attend community college right away and apply to transfer to your preferred college later, or to take a gap year and reapply to your preferred college in the next admissions cycle.
The Community College Option
If you want to get started on your college education right away, even if it’s not at your preferred college, your best option may be to start out by attending a community college. Later on, you can apply to your preferred four-year school(s) as a transfer student.
Make sure you research and carefully consider the admissions policies of the four-year college to which you would like to transfer. Some schools have very specific policies regarding how much time you can or must spend at a community college before you can apply to transfer. A school’s policies regarding transferring from a community college may also be different from their policies regarding transferring from another four-year college. It’s always best to find out ahead of time.
There are some definite advantages to this approach. Community colleges generally cost less than four-year colleges, so spending time at a community college can be a winning proposition financially for you and your family. You may be able to work and save up while attending school more easily than at a four-year college.
If your grades in high school were weaker than you’d like them to be, community college gives you an opportunity to build up a record of better academic performance. You may even find that the time at a community college helps you better understand what you want out of your college experience and what four-year school might be the best fit for you.
However, the process of transferring from a community college to a four-year school is complicated in its own right. You’ll have to go through that pesky application process, with all its paperwork and deadlines, all over again. In most cases, there is no guarantee you’ll be accepted to your preferred college as a transfer student (though some community colleges do have established transfer programs or agreements with four-year colleges).
The acceptance rates for transfer applicants at competitive schools are often quite low, just as with first-year applicants. The number of transfer students accepted to a given college may vary greatly from year to year depending on how many spots are available, and it may take a while for you to hear back about your admission decision. Housing, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities can be different for transfer students as well.
On a personal level, your college experience as a transfer student will be quite different from that of students who start at four-year colleges right away. For better or for worse, you won’t have the typical- or stereotypical- first-year experience, and you might feel like you’ve missed out.
Academically, transferring over credits from your community college years doesn’t always go smoothly, which can complicate the process of meeting your new college’s requirements. Policies differ from school to school, but you may find yourself spending extra time with advisors in order to make sure that you’re on track to graduate.
If your plan is to transfer to a four-year college after some time at a community college, take into account your needs as a future transfer student before you decide which community college to attend. It’s worthwhile to consider community colleges that have guaranteed transfer agreements with four-year colleges, though as always, you should read their requirements and stipulations carefully.
As a community-college student, you’ll want to select challenging courses in subjects that are relevant to your planned college path, and use every opportunity to improve upon your high-school record and make yourself a more competitive candidate.
The Gap Year Option
What if spending a year or two at a community college isn’t right for you, or you’re not sure you want to start college right away after all? Your other main option is to take a gap year– a year in which you don’t attend school, but pursue other activities instead- and reapply to your preferred school(s) during the next application cycle.
For a student who’s been caught up in the stressful world of college preparation and applications, taking a year off can seem like a very welcome break. That’s a major benefit of the gap year option: it gives you time to decompress and to explore interests that didn’t fit into your schedule when you were juggling coursework, extracurricular activities, and teenage life. You might even get to know yourself a little better.
However, don’t assume that a gap year will just be a vacation. Freedom from school for a year may sound like a great thing, but it’s up to you to use that time wisely.
If you decide to take a gap year, you’ll need to come into that year with a plan. Some students might take a job or internship during a gap year; this path allows them to earn money, save up for college, and gain potentially valuable work experience. Volunteering, while unpaid, can also be a very solid choice; it allows students to put their time to good use in service of worthy causes.
Other students might choose to further their educations in a less traditional way (such as through a language immersion program), to focus on personal projects or growth opportunities, or to travel and seek out new experiences.
While your gap year can be self-directed, many organizations exist to provide students with more structured ways to take “time off.” Your options are many and varied, but don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the choices; pick a plan and work hard at it.
Whatever activities you pursue, make sure they contribute positively to your resume and qualifications. Any colleges you apply to after your gap year absolutely will ask you what you did with that time. You can’t change your high-school grades after the fact during a gap year, but you can improve your overall profile as an applicant by gaining skills, experiences, and recognition. You may also be able to retake standardized tests during a gap year.
Think carefully about how your gap year can help you grow as a person and a student. Imagine what you’ll write in an application essay about your gap year, or how you’ll talk about it with an interviewer. A year seems like a long time, but it will inevitably go by quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be back in the throes of college applications again.
On a more practical note, just as with the community college option, the gap-year option will likely complicate your path through higher education somewhat. Some schools, such as Columbia University, do not allow students who have taken a gap year to apply for the traditional first-year experience. Applicants to Columbia who have taken a year or more between graduating high school and applying to college must apply to Columbia’s School of General Studies. GS students are not eligible for grant-based financial aid and must take out loans to supplement the cost of their education.
Other schools may allow you to apply just as any other prospective first-year would. Financial aid and scholarship opportunities may also be different for students who have taken a gap year. Make sure you understand the relevant policies and speak to admissions representatives at your preferred school(s) before you make the decision to seek transfer admission later on.
Taking the Next Steps
Given all the time and energy you’ve invested in preparing for college, not being accepted to any colleges may feel like the end of the world, but as this post shows, it really isn’t. Your eventual college experience may be slightly nontraditional, but there’s no reason it can’t be as fruitful and enjoyable as any other with a little additional research and hard work. Understanding your options is the first step to overcoming the obstacle of rejection and creating a college experience that fits your life.
As always, CollegeVine provides additional services and information to assist you in your application process. Visit us at the CollegeVine website for more information.
If attending community college and transferring later sounds like it might be a good option for you, check out our Guide to Transferring for more information about the process and application.
If a gap year sounds appealing, our post Should You Take A Gap Year After High School? can help you decide whether that experience would be a good fit for your situation.
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