I Wasn’t Accepted into my First Choice, Now What?

Written by Nicole Swanberg
Published on March 26, 2023 · Updated on April 15, 2023

I Wasn’t Accepted into my First Choice, Now What?

Written by Nicole Swanberg
Published on March 26, 2023 · Updated on April 15, 2023

The big moment arrives. You rush to the mailbox and find a letter addressed from your first-choice college. You excitedly tear the envelope open, give it a quick look over, and then your mood changes: you weren’t accepted.

I know that feeling. It can feel like your world is shattering, especially if you had built the dream of acceptance up in your mind for months. Maybe it’s the school your parents met at, a Big 10 school, or your dream Ivy League university.

If you’re wondering what your next move is, read on.

Read The Letter Fully

Oftentimes in an emotional situation, reading comprehension goes out the window. Make sure to read your letter fully and understand the situation. Are you rejected, waitlisted, or do they just need more information from you before you could qualify for acceptance?

Grieve The Loss Of What Was

This second step is super important. You may feel sad, numb, or angry (or maybe, all three). Give yourself time to process your emotions. Cry it out if you need to. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or counselor about it. Grieve the life you built up in your head, graduating from Harvard (or insert your dream college here). Yell, journal, go for a run, create some art, punch your pillow. Just don’t beat yourself up for too long. Feel your feels then take the next step to move on. You’re smart, you can do big things, and I believe in you! It’s time to hold your head up high and move forward.

Figure Out Your Next Plan

Hopefully, all your eggs weren’t in one basket. Did you apply to other schools? Have you received other acceptance letters? If so, dive into research on those schools. Schedule a phone call with a current student to talk about their experience at your second (or third) choice school. 

Chat with a professor that teaches in your intended major. There may be more to your second or third choice school than you gave them credit for originally. Maybe they have an amazing skiing team or incredible study abroad opportunities. You’ll never know unless you give them a shot!

If you only applied to your first choice (or were rejected from multiple schools), look for colleges that are still accepting applications, if you decided going to college is still for you. The National Association for College Admission Counseling puts out a list every year at the beginning of May that details colleges that are still accepting applications for admission in the fall. Or maybe start your studies at a local or junior college to get some cheaper credits in before applying again in the next year or two.

Consider Alternative College Options

Would you rather apply to a community college, pursue your associate degree, and transfer to a four-year school in two years? You could always try applying to your dream school again…if you feel up for it. Maybe you want to take a gap year, volunteer, travel, or work. Or maybe the military has been calling you, and you can eventually get your college paid for by the government. Spend some time reflecting on what you want your future to look like and what the next step is to make that happen.


Rejoice in the fact that you’ve made it this far. Reflect on your accomplishments, and spend time making memories with your friends your senior year. You wouldn’t want to regret part of your senior year because you spent your time wallowing and holed up in your parents’ house. Remember that life is fun (most of the time) and you have to find the beauty in the everyday and mundane moments.

Who knows? Maybe getting rejected from your first-choice college will lead you to an internship that will give you the experience you need to launch into a successful career. A volunteer experience could lead to you finding your passion. A study abroad trip could lead you to decide you want to move there after graduation. A random class could lead to you meeting your best friend. You never know what the future holds, so embrace the here and now and focus on what you can control.

Rejection Isn’t Personal

Rejection, in whatever form, hurts. Most college acceptance criteria are based on numbers. So don’t take it personally if a college doesn’t accept you. Maybe one of your stats didn’t match their stats. You’re still a good person with a lot to offer the world. Make sure you take time for yourself to process your feelings. It’s important that you don’t let this one rejection define you! You will do great things if you can move on from this defeat and show some persistence. As Susan Elizabeth Phillips said, “Anything worth having is worth fighting for.” So go fight for your future!