After all of the time, energy and effort you've put into the college application process, the last thing you want to think about is not getting into the school(s) you've chosen.
However, as there are no guarantees—
and admission committees make their decisions for all kinds of reasons—
a rejection letter or two may be something you have to face. This situation is rare (especially when students include at least one "safety school"), but it does happen.
Whatever you do when faced with such undesired results, though, don't despair.
There are still many options for you. You can still go to college—
and to a college of your choice. There is always plan B.
First, see your high school counselor.
"The counselor can do a bit of digging and find out why the applicant was not successful," said one director of college counseling.
Perhaps you aimed too high, didn't include a safety school, or just faced a more competitive pool of applicants than expected.
But don't lose hope. In early May, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) maintains a list of colleges that still have openings—called the College Openings Update. Your counselor can help you decide which of these colleges you should apply to. The College Openings Update remains on NACAC's site each year until June 30.
"We look for schools that have the type of atmosphere [the students] want—a campus that frequently has cross-applicants with the one they really wanted to go to, but has slightly lower admission standards," said another college and career counselor.
Remember—just because you're not accepted at one college doesn't mean you wouldn't be another college's first choice student.
Nontraditional Admission Options
Some colleges may have nontraditional admission options. For example, you might be able to enter college for the winter semester rather than starting in the fall. Or you could be admitted conditionally or on probation until you prove your ability to handle college work. Talk to your counselor about these options or call the admission office of the colleges that interest you.
Community colleges and some other two-year colleges have open admission policies. That means that all qualified applicants are accepted. Often, students who excel at a community college can then transfer to the college of their choice after a year or two. In addition, community colleges often offer a more personalized approach to education—smaller classes and in-depth academic and career counseling. Many community colleges have extensive resources for students who need a little extra help, and a growing number have honors programs. Plus, community colleges tend to be much less expensive than four-year colleges, which can help you save money.
"I do not think of [community college] as a last-choice option," the college and career counselor said. "It provides a nice stepping stone to four-year colleges."
If you go the community or two-year college route, look for a college that routinely sends students to the four-year college you ultimately want to attend, and work closely with your academic advisor to make sure that you take the courses you need to transfer.
For more information about community colleges, see Community College: A Viable Option.
A Year Off
If you're a bit unsure whether you're ready for college at all, consider taking a year off. You can use that year to work, explore career options, travel, volunteer, or participate in any of hundreds of programs for young people.
If this option appeals to you, begin by researching possible activities for the year. As attractive as it may seem right now, hanging out in front of the TV gets old fast—and it doesn't help you with your college or career decisions. Talk to your counselor and your family about options for a year off. You may find yourself teaching English in a foreign country, living in a kibbutz in Israel, studying endangered species in a remote area, or building houses in an economically disadvantaged area. Your experience may even make you more attractive to your first-choice college—or change your mind about what college you wish to attend.
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