This happens more than you think, but here’s how to handle the disappointment and devise Plan B.

Note: This information has been updated for 2023.

college rejection

Admissions officers say that a college rejection is not personal. Unfortunately, it sure feels like it to a high school senior who thought they had met all of a college’s admissions requirements. So what happened?

Personally, I think too many students over-apply and colleges encourage this behavior (to boost their “competitiveness”), reducing opportunities for kids who really want to attend those schools.

No time to lament, though. You and your senior must focus on what’s next.

Don’t play the blame game If your first response is to say I told you so, please don’t. Your kid’s self-esteem has taken enough of a beating. Don’t you think they’ve already figured out you were right—about everything?

You have to find a way to motivate your senior to finish high school strong and impress whatever college they will try to get into now. Yes, that’s still possible.

Get proactive and devise a plan Your teen might want to give up on the whole idea of college. Discourage this reaction and talk about their other options instead.

If you haven’t already, make an appointment with your student’s guidance counselor so that all of you can work together to create Plan B. Yours is not the first kid she’s seen this happen to. She might be able to call a few colleges to find out what prevented your senior from receiving an acceptance. That information can be helpful.

Address the options
1) Wait-listed anywhere? Your student needs to immediately write to each school where they’ve been wait-listed and say that they’re still interested in attending. The letter should explain why they want to go to the particular college, why they will be an asset and a commitment to attend if accepted. Colleges select students from the wait-list who show this level of interest in their school.

2) Look for colleges with rolling admissions and late application deadlines Rolling admissions means a school makes a decision as applications are received until it reaches its quota. That leaves some schools with a few openings even now. Other colleges have late application deadlines. After using the sites below to find these colleges, check each school’s website to confirm their application dates.

The Common Application site includes application deadlines and other important details for all their member colleges on the Requirements Grid, which is accessed via the How to Apply, Understand the Requirements tabs. Note how many colleges have rolling admissions.

Visit the College Board site and begin a new college search. Once your teen has selected all relevant criteria, click on the Relevance drop down menu (in the upper right hand corner) and select Application Deadline. Don’t be scared away by the Jan. 1 deadlines, which will come up first. Only a few screens later you’ll begin to see schools accepting applications until May 1 or later.

Deadline information should also be available through Naviance, if your high school participates in that program. Sign in to begin the process.

3) Colleges have slots open after May 1, National Acceptance Day In the first week of May, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) posts a searchable list of colleges that still have openings for the Fall.

4) Community college is not a bad word Once your teen accepts that no one is too good for community college, they can seriously consider this option. I know a valedictorian who chose community college purely for financial reasons. After two years, she transferred to a top-tier four-year college where she received a full scholarship.

Community college allows students to cheaply fulfill their general education requirements, improve their grades and discover opportunities. Some two-year colleges work closely with four-year institutions to allow a seamless transfer into a bachelor’s program.

Community college isn’t ideal for a kid who planned to go away to school, but this might be the best solution for a semester or two.

Answering “the question” How does your family answer when someone asks about college acceptances? You can be completely honest, but that’s awfully hard. Have your teen try one of these valid responses instead:

“I didn’t get a financial aid package that made any of the colleges affordable.”

“I changed my major and the schools where I applied didn’t offer it.”

”I thought I wanted to go away, but I changed my mind.”

“The schools I got into weren’t the ones where I really wanted to go, so I’m staying local and hoping to transfer in January.”

Start checking out the transfer process If your senior still wants to try to get into any of those colleges where they were rejected, then research the transfer process and application deadlines for those schools now.

Enjoy graduation Once your family has devised Plan B, focus on celebrating your teen’s high school graduation. Because that is worth a celebration.

Share your advice for parents on finding solutions to college rejections in the comments section below. 

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