What to Do When You’ve Been Rejected from Your Dream School

Teen girl sitting on the floor, hugging her knees, looking depressed.
Believe it or not there is life after getting rejected from your dream school. Here's what to do when that happens.

What to Do When You’ve Been Rejected from Your Dream School

Published April 10, 2019 | Last Updated June 9th, 2023 at 05:25 pm

Believe it or not there is life after getting rejected from your dream school. Here's what to do when that happens.
Teen girl sitting on the floor, hugging her knees, looking depressed.

The college application process is something that we only have to go through once…if we are lucky. It can be exhausting, defeating, and upsetting. However, college is an investment.

An investment in one’s self, time, and finances. It is a decision that deserves a lot of thought and energy.

It is also extremely important to balance dreams and realities. Because sometimes we don’t get into the school we want. 

What do you do then?

Details About Dream Schools Are Important

College application season can be a very stressful time for not only students, but also their families. There are many factors to consider when deciding on which schools to apply to.

For instance, understanding admissions statistics is important. Numbers don’t lie when it comes to college acceptances.

Admissions rates, average test scores, GPAs, and amount of in-state vs out-of-state acceptances are all metrics you can and should assess in your application process. Acknowledging these numbers helps keep college acceptance goals in reality.

Most students are advised to apply to safety schools, reach schools, and some that fall in between. However, a “safety” school doesn’t just have to be a school that is “easy” to be accepted into.

It may be a school close to home, reducing costs of tuition, housing, and traveling. The same goes for “reach” schools. A reach school is usually a university with a relatively low acceptance rate, and it may come with a heftier price tag, putting it even more out of reach.

As you work through the application process, keep these factors in mind. Accepting the realities that come with college acceptances can be difficult but it is actually a humbling experience.

Finding Value in Other Schools

One thing that I find important when applying to universities is looking into honors colleges and major-specific programs. This can make a regular college experience more personalized and challenging for students who want it.

And an honors program at a lower-cost or in-state school can be just as prestigious as that big name school that rejected you. 

These specific programs can also open up opportunities for scholarships.

Also, when considering applying to reach schools, it is important to understand the dynamics at these prestigious institutions. While these institutions are respectable and receive high accolades, this status makes it much more difficult to stand out and make a mark.

At a public institution, there are more opportunities to achieve new things and reach the “top” much faster.

Rejection Hurts, but Also Helps

When I was rejected from the University of Southern California –an outrageously expensive and high-demand school– I was heartbroken. It is a prestigious accomplishment to be accepted.

But there’s an upside to being rejected from these types of institutions. While highly regarded, the student body isn’t that diverse, academically, like you might find at a different public institution.

At these “less prestigious” schools, there is more room at the top since not the entire school is the top. There is more room to grow.

When everyone is the smartest in the room, it is much harder to get anywhere. Not to mention, being in a room filled with diverse economic and academic backgrounds makes you more well-rounded. That can even help your future career!  

Being rejected from a top university is difficult. You will always wonder if your GPA wasn’t high enough or if your essay wasn’t good enough. However, it is not the end of the world and it is not the worst thing that could happen.

It can be a great reality check and it can open so many doors you didn’t think possible.

Moving Forward From a Dream School Rejection

Investing in a university that allows room for growth and  opportunity to experience a diverse community is one of the smartest things you can do.

Most public universities have commendable academic programs, but you won’t know unless you research. In fact, researching academic programs is a great way to learn more about a university.

It is also important to look at the university, particularly the majors they offer, as a whole. Chances are you will change your major. Given that, you’ll want attend a school that has many great options.

That’ll make it easier to switch, should you change your mind about what you want to study.

Additionally, employers care less and less about where potential employees attend school. When looking at schools, the social dynamics (clubs, sports, fraternities, and sororities, etc) should count as well as the academics.

You want a school that meets all your needs, not just one that’s exclusive.

Dreams and realities are difficult to balance. More and more prospective college students have one school in mind that is their absolute dream school.

Growing up in Los Angeles, all I wanted to do was to go to USC and become a Trojan. However, that just wasn’t a reality for me.

I ended up in the right place for me, and I wouldn’t change the way it went.


Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

An Ivy League Journey: From Yale to Medical School

How to Pick a College That Loves You Back

Colleges With High Acceptance Rates




In this article:

Upcoming Events

Similar Articles for You

What Is a College Major? All About Your Options and How to Select One


What Is a College Major? All About Your Options and How to Select One

In your journey to a college degree, selecting a major is a pivotal step. It not only shapes your academic...

Why Is My EFC so High and What Does it Mean?


Why Is My EFC so High and What Does it Mean?

You’ve filled out the FAFSA and received your EFC or tried an EFC calculator. Now you’re asking, Why is my...

What Does an EFC of 00000 Mean?


What Does an EFC of 00000 Mean?

If you’ve filled out the FAFSA and come back with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of 00000, you might think...

Tools & Services Recommended for You

There may come a time when you realize you can’t do it all alone. Use any of the many tools in our toolbox to assist you on the road to college.

Become a Member

At Road2College you’ll find everything you need to make the admissions and paying for college process less stressful and more transparent.


Explore College Insights™ — your source for finding affordable colleges and merit scholarships.


Get coaching on admissions and college financing.


Join Road2College where parents and experts work together to inform and inspire college-bound families.