How To Handle College Rejection Letters

How To Handle College Rejection Letters

Every spring thousands of students receive rejection letters from colleges and universities. While it is disappointing, particularly when a top choice school sends a rejection letter, there are steps students can take to manage upsetting news and move forward in the admissions process.

Acknowledge Disappointment

It is upsetting. No one wants to get a rejection letter. When a student has put time and effort into vising a school, submitting an application, and picturing him or herself on campus, rejection is hurtful. It is okay to spend a day or two grieving the loss of an opportunity. Students who acknowledge their feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration, or loss are better able to move onto new possibilities than those who try to ignore their feelings and end up lashing out at family and friends unexpectedly.

Reevaluate criteria and priorities.

Once the initial shock and disappointment wear off, get back to the big picture of finding a college that is a good fit. This means letting go of the option that is no longer available and getting into the mindset of finding the next choice. I’ve worked with students who ended up with no options by the time they graduated because they refused to get past the disappointment of a rejection and move on to “Plan B.”

This step goes hand in hand with attainable admissions standards. Sometimes rejection letters force students to face unpleasant facts. This is often where good (and great) students are told they are not exceptional enough to gain admission to the ultra-selective colleges on their lists. It is a time to look for great schools with friendlier admissions policies. Reevaluating the initial criteria for selecting colleges can help refocus on the overall goal.

Evaluate Other Acceptance Offers

Hopefully students will have developed lists of potential schools so that they will have other offers of admission. Focusing on the positive acceptances and the possibilities of each can help students handle rejection. This is why I have moved away from the term “backup school” because I want students to see all options as good choices and not feel they have to settle if they aren’t accepted at their top choice school.

Even if all top choice schools sent rejection letters, a student can still find a positive alternative. It is as if a student finds she won’t get a new luxury car, but will receive an economy car. Seeing the benefits of the new car, even if it is an economy model rather than a luxury one, can help. Other acceptance offers are better than no acceptance offers.

Apply to Other Schools if Necessary

If a student has been rejected from all schools to which he or she applied, it may be necessary to submit applications to additional colleges. Students who have reason to believe they will not receive any letters of acceptance should look for schools with easier admissions standards than the ones they applied to before.

I know application deadlines have passed at many schools, but there are still options. Schools with late spring application deadlines or rolling decision options may accept applications as late as May or June for fall registration. These new schools may have friendlier admission criteria, but don’t assume students will get in without trying. (In other words, don’t underestimate these colleges. Later deadlines doesn’t mean they accept everyone; put effort into those applications.)

In May colleges evaluate how many students have enrolled and how much space, if any, they have available in the incoming class. Students in need of a backup school in May, June, or July should contact their counselors to find out which colleges and universities still have openings for the fall semester.

Move On

The final step and handling college rejection is moving on. After a week or two of lamenting the lost opportunity, students need to move on. Accepting rejection, whether from a college, employer, or potential date, is part of growing up. Learning to handle rejection in a mature calm manner will help students avoid potentially embarrassing situations in the future and open their minds to new opportunities.


When highly-selective universities have admissions rates below 10 percent, even valedictorians are denied admission. What students do in the days and weeks following will determine if they are successfully able to handle rejection and move on.


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How Do Colleges View Multiple Attempts at the ACT/SAT?

Standardized tests can be a key factor in college admission and scholarship awards.  As a result, students often take the SAT or ACT more than once, attempting to earn the highest scores possible. Understanding how colleges view multiple attempts at these tests can help you decide if you should take one again

Multiple Attempts Are Common

If you are considering taking the ACT or SAT for a second or third time, you are not alone.  Nationwide, most students will take their choice of test two or three times.  However, simply retaking these exams will not improve your scores.  Before retaking either the SAT or ACT, many students find it beneficial to review content, calm their nerves, or learn how to employ different test-taking strategies.

Colleges Use Your Best Scores

Colleges and universities understand that students will take entrance exams multiple times, and will use your best score. Don’t worry that admissions officers will see multiple attempts at the test; this is the norm. But don’t think colleges will be impressed with your effort. They want to see results and don’t care that you’ve been diligent in retaking the SAT or ACT.

There is no limit on the number of times a student can take the SAT or ACT. I like to use common sense as a guide—more than three attempts is unlikely to result in better scores unless a student has devoted considerable time and effort to improvement. Colleges do not penalize students for multiple attempts. Unlike with some graduate school exams, colleges do not average ACT/SAT scores.  They will determine students’ best scores using one of two methods:  “superscoring” or single highest results.

Some Schools Superscore

Superscoring refers to the practice of compiling a student’s highest scores, even if they come from different test dates. The practice of superscoring started with the SAT. Let’s consider this example:

                    Reading/Writing          Math               Total

Oct SAT         560                             700                 1260

Jan SAT         610                             660                 1270

Superscore    610 (Jan)                   700 (Oct)           1310

This student clearly benefits from the practice of superscoring where he/she has a total of 1310—a real plus if a program requires a minimum SAT score of 1300.

Some colleges have started to superscore the ACT, but that practice is less common. It is also common for a school to superscore the SAT, but not the ACT, so be sure to ask if you are focusing on the ACT.

Superscoring allows students to focus on improving one graded section at a time without having to worry about their results on the other portion. It can also save you from an additional attempt at the test if a college is willing to superscore. But make sure to check with every school on your list to learn their policies.

Some Schools Use Single-Highest Results

Other colleges and universities prefer to use a student’s best scores from a single test date.  For a student who has taken the SAT multiple times, the college would look at the total of both sections and use the results from the test date on which the student earned the highest total score. From the example above, the total from the January test (1270) is the student’s highest total, so would be the score used. For the ACT, colleges would look for the best composite score.

If you plan to retake the ACT / SAT and send your scores to colleges using this calculation method, you have to pay attention to all areas of the exam in order to improve your total score.

Colleges Tell Applicants What They Want

Students should look at all the colleges on their list and determine how each school evaluates standardized scores.  Most colleges and universities are forthcoming with their policies, often posting them on their websites.  Regardless of how a school calculates your best scores, they may request that you send results from all test dates. If a particular school does not request all scores, you can use score choice options to send only your best results.

In this day of highly competitive college admissions, you need for colleges to see your best ACT & SAT results.  Understanding how colleges view multiple attempts at these tests can help you plan your own test-taking and college admissions strategies.

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Free Tool to Help Decide if Your ACT / SAT Scores Are Good Enough

“Are my ACT (or SAT) scores good enough?”

This is a popular question that follows many high school juniors and their families. Along with other questions: Should I retake the test? Try taking the other exam? Will these scores be enough? Am I competitive for XYZ University?

There is no absolute answer. In many cases test scores are just one of many factors colleges evaluate when making admissions decisions. But there is a way to see if your scores measure up compared to other students who were admitted to the schools you are considering.

In this video, I’ll show you how to use the College Search feature on the College Board website to evaluate your test scores.

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The Best Online Resources for Finding Scholarships

best place to find scholarship


Whether you are a high school freshman, a current college student, or a graduate student, you can find scholarships to help pay for your education. In addition to working with the guidance counseling or financial aid office at your high school or college, you can find scholarship search tools online.

Before you embark on a scholarship hunt there are a few tips you should consider:

  • Agree on the number of scholarships you will apply to each week, month, or in total. It can become a full-time job.
  • If you haven’t already, create a separate email account for college/scholarship information versus your personal and school communication.
  • Don’t let the volume of information overwhelm you. Be ready to adjust your email preferences to get weekly summaries rather that separate emails for every possible scholarship.
  • Organize your written responses so you can reuse answers as much as possible. This helps if you plan to apply to multiple scholarships.
  • Before you work on any scholarship or apply to any program you find online, verify that the program is still in existence. Companies and colleges discontinue funding at times and you don’t want to invest 15 hours of effort only to find the program ended last year.


Watch Out!

First, NEVER PAY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS. Ever. If you are told there is a fee to accept your award, it is a scam. You should not have to pay for legitimate scholarships.

The sites listed in this article work to include only legitimate programs, but there are a lot of companies out there preying upon people’s desire to find college money. These shifty businesses promise results. Use your good judgment. No one can guarantee scholarships.

Also, these scholarship search sites ask for your personal information to help find scholarships that meet your specific profile. Use caution when providing personal information, as some sites may sell your information. Read the registration forms carefully, and if you do not want your information shared with third parties, be sure to opt out.

Here are some top online resources for finding scholarships.


Fastweb is an online scholarship database with more than 1.5 million programs listed. Students can register with Fastweb, create a profile, and receive customized emails with scholarships right for them. Fastweb has scholarships for every year of study, beginning with high school freshman and going all the way through graduate school. Since 1995, Fastweb has been helping students with free scholarship search information. is another online database dedicated to helping students find money for college. features 2.7 million scholarships and grants worth more than $19 million. Students and guidance counselors can search according to a variety of criteria. In addition, includes a matchmaker and directory feature to help students find the right college.


Big Future

Big Future is one part of the College Board’s extensive website. You are probably familiar with the College Board site because it’s the resource for SAT practice and registration. However, the site’s “Big Future” section also includes college and scholarship search features. The scholarship search feature is a recent addition that includes 2,200 programs totaling more than $6 million in awards. College Board is working to expand the listings, so the number of scholarships listed will increase.



Cappex, a popular college search site, gives you access to more than $11 billion in scholarships. It is a great tool to search for scholarships offered by specific colleges and universities. The focus of the site is matching students with merit and academic scholarships offered by more than 3,000 schools.



CollegeNET is a technology company that focuses on web-based tools for education. The scholarship search program is unique, because in addition to information on programs and awards, CollegeNET encourages students to create forums and vote online for the most interesting discussion. Weekly voting and site participation determines the CollegeNET social networking scholarship, which ranges from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the level of participation. In addition to the social aspect, CollegeNET has a database of $1.6 billion in scholarships.


By using these online resources you can find scholarships, even if you are not a top academic student. There will be overlap in the scholarships described on these sites, but each site claims to have unique content. It’s a good idea to use more than one of these sites as part of your scholarship search.


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Study Skills for Better Grades with Less Stress

Study Skills Better Grade Less Stress

In the process of advising teens and families on how to best prepare for college admission, I often suggest a student work to improve his or her grades. Sometimes better grades simply require getting serious or devoting a little more time and effort. However, in many cases students don’t know what to do. That’s where study skills enter the picture.

I’m familiar with a variety of strategies and organizational techniques, but I’m not an expert. But I do work with someone who specializes in these areas—Gretchen Wegner. The greatest compliment I can pay my podcast co-host Gretchen is that she helps me learn new study strategies, even if I’m initially doubtful.

I’m a “just the facts” person when it comes to studying. I was always good at school and test taking was a skill that came easily, so I didn’t want to waste time on “creative” study solutions. I could read the chapter, complete the assignment, and get top grades without too much effort. Gretchen has spent her career working with students who need another approach.

If you have ever struggled in a subject or studied only to find it wasn’t enough, you know that some of the “old school” approaches to education aren’t sufficient. Gretchen combines the latest research in brain science and learning with an understanding of teens to present strategies that really work.

Here are some of my favorites. (Click on the titles to access that episode on The College Prep Podcast website.)


080: The Right & Wrong Ways to Study with Flashcards

I’m a big fan of flashcards— specifically the paper ones you can shuffle and sort which have some functionality that apps like Quizlet can’t replace. When Gretchen introduced me to some of the strategies listed in this episode, I was skeptical. (I’m not a personal fan of “fun” activities; I’d rather just study the cards.) Why should we add in “silly” activities to regular study? Because it works. Well. Since this podcast aired a year ago, I have encouraged my students, and even my own daughter, to incorporate these techniques.

In Gretchen’s academic coaching practice, she notices students mindlessly use flashcards. This makes studying take longer and results in less effective learning.

In this interactive podcast, Gretchen walks listeners step by step through her favorite technique for using flashcards to turn your brain ALL the way on. Come with a few blank index cards (or a torn sheet of paper) and follow along. You’ll discover:

  • The less effective ways students use flashcards
  • How to use categories and grouping to turn your brain to “on” while you learn
  • How to infuse silliness while still learning effectively, and
  • Ways to invite family and friend to play with flashcards, in order to make info stick longer

If you’d like more practice with this creative technique, or want to learn 10+ additional techniques for taking the boredom out of studying, check out the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying.


143: How to Read a 400 Page Book in Under Two Hours

One of the most time consuming activities for students is reading! And most students don’t effectively read most assignments. (Eyes moving over the pages won’t help if the information never enters their brains.)

In this episode discover simple tips for reading faster and more effectively than you ever thought possible. Learn:

  • The section of the book readers usually skip (but shouldn’t)
  • How to skim for the structure of the information so you remember the main points
  • How to find secret clues inside the chapter that will allow you to quickly identify main ideas
  • How to use your hand while you read to help you read faster
  • How to annotate a nonfiction text (it’s not what your teacher taught you!)


130: How to Get Homework Started Painlessly with the Pomodoro Method

As a parent I’m pretty fortunate when it comes to the task of refereeing homework. My fourth grader comes home and immediately starts his work and my high schooler may grumble some days, but has always been self-motivated. I know not all parents are as lucky.

Initiating homework is a hard task for students! Especially students with executive function challenges (planning, organization, self-monitoring, prioritization, task initialization, etc.)

Tune in to this episode to learn about why the Pomodoro technique is such a good antidote to getting work started, and how to set yourself up for success with this technique, including:

  • What the Pomodoro Technique is, and why it’s so helpful for students
  • 4 tips to get your work space set up so that you make the most of the Pomodoro Technique
  • How to adjust it for your unique work style
  • How to take breaks that refresh you, so that you’re ready to come back for more

This is another example of one of Gretchen’s techniques I doubted when I first heard of it, but that I have started using at home.


Here are some other great episodes to help you build your study skills arsenal:

014: How to Study So Well You are 100% Ready for Every Test

128: How to Help Teens Get Control of Their Schedules

029: How Parents Can Raise Teens Who Manage Time Well with Leslie Josel

010: How to Take Powerful Notes That Make Key Points Stick

100: The Key to Inspiring Students to Study Strategically

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