Rejected From College? 4 Strategies To Rebound

If you've been served a few college rejection letters this application season, you're not alone — especially if your sights are set on a top-tier school. Just shy of 95 percent of applicants to Stanford University were rejected in 2014, for example, and the old-guard northeastern bloc wasn't far behind. The Department of Educational Statistics reports that Penn (89.6 percent), Dartmouth (88.5 percent) and Cornell (85.8 percent) were the only Ivy League schools to reject fewer than 90 percent of 2013-14 applicants.

Public school rejection rates may be lower, but the chance is still there that you might be turned away from the school of your choice for one reason or another. If that does happen, however, never fear: Whether you're trying to figure out how to go back to college or applying to a school for the first time, here's a list of strong steps you or your incoming freshman can take to turn things around and keep moving forward.

Option #1: Re-state your case

A student can try to appeal their rejection from certain schools.

Although a rejection letter may seem set in stone, there's often still hope. Presenting new details of your case for acceptance in a carefully constructed appeal letter can show your chosen university just how committed you are to your education, and it may influence an admissions department to give you a second chance. Here are a few sample scenarios:

  • If your SAT/ACT scores weren't quite high enough to impress the registrars, re-taking the test and submitting your new results can strengthen your chances
  • If you only had a few extracurriculars in your transcript, a well-articulated explanation of specific ways in which your experiences prepared you to contribute positively to the campus culture of your top school might sway an admissions rep in your favor
  • If you have additional sources for recommendation letters, contacting them and including a few extra with your appeal can go a long way toward inviting an admissions department to think twice

Now, it's true that not every school in the U.S. allows students to appeal their admissions decisions, so make sure to check and make sure appeals aren't explicitly forbidden in their admissions policy. If you can appeal, remember to focus on your existing strengths, try to remedy any standardized testing shortfalls and, above all, be respectful and polite in the language you choose.

Option #2: The late-deadline pivot

A student fights the timing of a deadline.

If appealing the decision isn't an option for you, don't forget that different universities operate on different deadline schedules for applicants. A considerable percentage of U.S. schools set their fall-semester application deadlines at or around January 1, but plenty of quality universities give students quite a bit more latitude on the admissions timeline.

These are just a few of the competitive national institutions with same-year freshman application deadlines:

  • March-April
    • Berea College (4/30)
    • Jackson State University (3/1)
    • New Jersey Institute of Technology (3/1)
    • Seton Hall University (3/1)
    • Illinois State University (4/1)
    • Louisiana State University (4/15)
    • University of Utah (4/1)
  • May-July

    • Clemson University (5/1)
    • The University of Texas at Dallas (7/1; 5/1 for international students)
    • University of Arizona (5/1)
    • University of Iowa (5/1)
    • University of Massachusetts - Lowell (6/1, UMass web application only)
    • University of Nebraska - Omaha (5/1)
  • August-September

    • Louisiana Tech University (9/1)
    • North Dakota State University (8/1)
    • Tennessee Technological University (8/1)
    • University of Arkansas (8/1)

What's more, some highly competitive schools maintain a rolling admissions policy, which may mean that a hard application deadline doesn't exist at all for certain programs. Purdue University, Michigan State University, Indiana University - Bloomington and Penn State - University Park all made the list of top 100 national universities published by U.S. News and World Report, and all have rolling admissions available as of this writing.

Option #3: Tackle a year of core courses and re-apply

Jumping back into community college could be good for some students.

It's an open secret that most undergraduate degree plans share nearly 50 percent of their curriculum with one another. The general education core will make up a significant portion of the first two years of coursework at a majority of institutions, and credits in English composition and college algebra have a way of transferring fairly well from one school to another.

With that in mind, remember not to overlook community or online colleges as a way to stay on track while you regroup for a second shot at your top schools after a semester or two. Acceptance restrictions at two-year schools are typically much more forgiving than at four-year universities, and much of their gen-ed coursework is designed to satisfy the standards upheld at the university level.

If you do decide to go this route, keep in mind the three most important things about online and community colleges: accreditation, accreditation, accreditation. Make absolutely sure that the school you choose has been recognized by a regional or national accrediting body or you may have a hard time transferring the credits you worked so hard for once you get into a university program.

Option #4: Consider the trades

A student thinks about the right educational path.

The prevailing attitude in our culture is that you need a college degree to find the kind of job that makes for a desirable livelihood, but that isn't quite the whole truth. Employment in the skilled trades sector of the economy is showing some of the strongest growth projections over the next several years, and vocational programs can take as little as half as long to complete as a typical bachelor's degree.

Not only that, but the workforce value of trade-school jobs might surprise you. Here's a quick table of some of the top trades in the country, along with mean annual salary figures and job growth projections published by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Occupation titleNational mean annual salary
National 90th-percentile minimum annual salary (2014)Projected job growth
Paralegals$51,840$77,8308 percent
Electricians$54,520$85,59014 percent
Plumbers and pipefitters$54,620$88,16012 percent
Electro-mechanical technicians$55,600$82,7001 percent
Diagnostic medical sonographers$68,390$93,85024 percent
Registered nurses$69,790$98,88016 percent
Dental hygienists$71,970$97,39019 percent

As you can see, vocational employment is a more diverse economic sector than may be obvious. Whether you're interested in medicine, law, engineering, social science or another field, there's a chance that a vocational education can help you find a rewarding, challenging job without the need to shell out for a four-year college degree.

Stay on the grind

Whatever strategy you choose to rebound from a college rejection, remember this: An unfavorable decision on your application doesn't mean that you aren't cut out for the life you want. You may need to take a few more steps before you find yourself where you hope to be in terms of education and employment, but a rejection letter or two doesn't serve to shut and barricade the door against you.

Also, who knows? That rejection that felt so much like a punch in the heart may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Keep your mind open, your feet moving and your eyes out for good opportunities that come your way. You may just end up happy and fulfilled in a way you never expected.

1. U.S. News & World Report, accessed February 9, 2016
2, My Successful Letter of Appeal to UC Berkeley, Huffington Post, Kevin F. Adler, March 25, 2013, accessed February 9, 2016,
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4. School pages, accessed February 17, 2015: Application Deadlines, Louisiana Tech Office of Admissions,; What are your application deadlines?, Jackson State University,; All About Applying, New Jersey Institute of Technology,; Freshman Applicants, Seton Hall University,; Applying as a Freshman, Berea College,; Application Filing Periods, High School Counselors, Illinois State University,; Freshman Dates & Deadlines, Louisiana State University,; First-Year Student Application Process, University of Iowa,; Dates and Deadlines, Office of Admissions, The University of Utah,; Undergraduate Admissions, Clemson University,; Application Process, Office of Admission and Enrollment, The University of Texas at Dallas,; Dates and Deadlines, University of Arizona Admissions,; Deadlines & Fees, University of Massachusetts - Lowell,; First-Year Student, Admissions, University of Nebraska Omaha,; Application, Office of Admission, North Dakota State University,; Admission Procedures, Tennessee Technological University,; Important Dates, Undergraduate Admissions, University of Arkansas,
5. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed February 9, 2016
6. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed February 9, 2016