Coping With Rejection in the College Process


Credit: Williston Northampton Website

As early decision and early action responses start to trickle in from colleges, many students are reluctantly facing the reality of rejection. This feeling is, of course, exacerbated by the overwhelming presence of social media, which creates the appearance that “everyone” is getting into their dream school.

Meanwhile, the statistics say otherwise. According to The Princeton Review, less than 20 percent of high school students were accepted by their early decision schools in 2019. This year, however, the unprecedented global pandemic has changed the scope of college acceptances,
making the process even more competitive than years past.

For many students applying to college at Williston, the college process represents their first encounter with true rejection. This can lead to unwanted thoughts and feelings about one’s abilities and self-worth.

Deborah Potee, a Counselor at Williston, offered some valuable insight into the sadness associated with college rejection.

“I tell students that once you have completed the application, all the years of work, culminating in a completed application, that it is out of your hands,” Potee said. “Tolerating and accepting a response, whatever that response is, is a step towards adulthood. You can be sad or even devastated, but remind yourself that you have done all you can do and forgive yourself and move forward.”

College Counselor Emily McDowell also highlighted the “real-life” nature of the college process.

“I believe that part of the college process mirrors life, and you gain life skills through the process,” she explained. “We have to recognize that, like in the real world, rejection is inevitable. Though it may come with feelings of frustration and sadness, we need to learn to embrace it for what it is.”

Eve Seidman, a senior  shared her thoughts about being rejected from college.

“Sometimes the college you were rejected from was not a good fit,” Eve said. “Not going to your first choice, and going to your second or third instead, will, the majority of the time, still end up being a great option.”

In New York City, elite private schools have traditionally been feeders to the Ivy Leagues. All this has changed in 2020-2021, as seniors are being rejected from their early decision schools in massive waves. Laelah Aaron, a senior at the Riverdale Country School in New York, was “absolutely devastated” when she didn’t get accepted into Vanderbilt.

“Vanderbilt has been my dream school for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I thought I was smart enough and talented enough to get in, but I guess other people are just more qualified.”

Ashley Cooper, a student at The Spence School in New York, also experienced rejection
from her ED school.

“I loved Penn from the moment I saw it,” Ashley said. “I thought it was the right place for me. But they didn’t want me—it was a tough year. I just need to move past it and find another school that makes me happy.”

Though rejection is daunting and painful, there are ways to cope with it, and it can actually teach us some very valuable lessons in the end.

According to Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), the most important part of dealing with rejection is accepting it early. She elaborated in an interview for Psychology Today.

“The earlier you accept the rejection and attempt to move on from it, the easier time you’re going to have,” Linehan said. “It will also mean that your rejections in the future won’t absolutely flatten you.”

Another method for coping with rejection is by reframing it. Like Ashley, who decided to put a positive spin on her rejection from Penn, we can remember that rejection is not about us as people, but about the situation itself. In a year as unprecedented as this, the college process
is as ruthless as ever. Though Williston students are all qualified to go to top schools, nobody is guaranteed a spot at their first choice.

A third method for coping with rejection is with vulnerability. Whether it be a best friend, sibling, parent, or therapist, sharing our feelings with others allows us to repair ourselves by increasing self-awareness. Simply the act of sharing, whether or not we receive validation in
return, helps us feel a little lighter.

Striving for success necessitates rejection along the way. In this way, rejection is an inevitable part of life that can teach us some critical lessons. It teaches us to be patient and keep moving. It helps us by showing us just how strong, resourceful, and capable we really are when the chips are down. We may not get what we want right away, but if we are willing to work hard
and be patient, we will eventually find ourselves where we want to be.