ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled
Saved to My Favorites. View My Favorites
Articles / Applying to College / College "Fit" vs. Rejection

College "Fit" vs. Rejection

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Nov. 8, 2016

Most of you high school seniors who have chosen Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) have already submitted your applications. Now, you're managing your academics, extracurriculars, and looking at other colleges, either as additional candidates beyond your EA school(s) or as a contingency in case your mid-December results are not what you desired.

Speaking of undesirable outcomes, let's take a look at some of the possible reasons colleges deny certain applicants and how you should deal with that reality. In other words, just as my post's title notes, let's consider fit versus rejection.

A while back, I wrote an article for College Confidential entitled Dealing with Rejection. In my attempt to explain how to deal with a negative admissions outcome, I said:

Dealing with rejection is difficult. Most high schoolers tend to take being turned down by a college or university on a personal level. They seem to think that the letter [or email these days] from the admissions office is really saying something like, “You are deficient and we don't want to have anything to do with you." Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that in a lot of cases some rejected students could have done as well, if not better, than those who were accepted. … One famous dean of admission said that his institution received so many outstanding applications that he didn't have the heart to send rejection letters. He noted that placing these fine young men and women on the waitlist was his way of saying, “We should have admitted you, but we didn't have room." Such is the case with many good colleges. Everyone who is good enough to get in isn't always offered admission. …

So, believe it or not, college admissions officers (and deans) can have a heart. Of course, knowing that fact doesn't provide much comfort for the rejected applicant.

On the other hand, there's a different way to look at not being accepted. Instead of feeling that grinding thought that you are a deficient applicant, unfit for acceptance, perhaps you should consider that you are, indeed, fit, but the college or university has goals and needs in mind for their incoming class that don't align with your profile.

The “mismatch," so to speak, is on their end, not yours. This may — or may not — help you deal with your disappointment.

People look at this in different ways …

Take the case of Ben Orlin who explains why he refuses to be an alumni interviewer this year and would never enlist students anymore. Orlin wishes not to be engulfed in the process of giving students ample disappointments when rejected. Yale sends rejection letters to 94% of their college applicants.

Orlin feels to have a hand in the admissions process that is destroying the applicants emotionally just because of the misconception that they are not good enough, says NBC News.

Being rejected by a college entity should be taken as if it is akin to not being accepted as a friend via Facebook friend request. It should not be as serious as getting dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend, according to Business Insider.

No doubt, dealing with rejection is difficult. Most high schoolers mistakenly take rejection on a personal level. They seem to think that the letter from the admission office is really saying something like, “You are deficient and we don't want to have anything to do with you." Nothing could be further from the truth.

The real truth is that often some rejected students could have done as well as — or better than — accepted students. This isn't a matter of rationalization or sour grapes. At schools where there is a significantly larger number of applications than seats (schools whose acceptance rates are 50 percent or less), there just isn't room for all the qualified applicants. That's why there is the so-called wait list. A wait list is a group of “in-betweeners," not accepted but not rejected, a kind of purgatory. They gain admission only if the number of enrollments doesn't meet expectations for the incoming freshman class.

Others agree with me about this. NBC News' Amy DiLuna makes the following points about being denied by a college to which you've applied:

– Rejection doesn't mean you're not good enough.

Go back up a bit and reread what I said: “Nothing could be further from the truth. The real truth is that often some rejected students could have done as well as — or better than — accepted students …"

– Maybe you're just not the cellist they need this year.

Again, this referee to the lack of fit that happens on the colleges' end. You certainly may be a good cellist, but this particular school may be looking for trombonists this year. Brass vs. strings. It happens. This is exactly what “college fit vs. rejection" means.

– It's kind of like the Powerball.

“When only 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 applicants gets admitted, it is closer to a lottery," said Jim Jump, director of college counseling at St. Christopher's School in Virginia. “As a counselor, my advice to students and parents mirrors the Serenity Prayer. Focus and worry about the things over which you control, and not over those you don't. Getting into a particular school is one of those."

– Try to keep it all off social media.

This is real wisdom. Lisa Sohmer, director of college counseling at The Garden School in Queens, notes, “Everything now is so public, (Our generation) could go home, get the envelope, cry into our pillows, go to school the next day and not say anything, as opposed to everything being on Facebook and Instagram with pictures of the letters. Don't post too much about how this is your first choice, because if you wind up enrolling in School “A" rather than School “B," everybody's going to ask you why."

– Remember that life goes on.

“They should be able to try, with the help of their families, colleagues, friends, counselors, to understand that they have options, that this the beginning of something and not the end, and that their parents and teachers and friends are going to feel the same way about them whether they get into school X or not," Sohmer said.

– Allow time for mourning.

Take some time to feel disappointed about not getting into your most-desired school(s). It's perfectly natural to feel bad.

Don't dwell on it, though, and, by all means, don't develop an obsessive attitude about it. Don't hate that school from this moment on. Don't view successful candidates as elitist snobs. Accept the fact that you didn't make the cut–for whatever reason–and get on with your life.

Embrace those schools that have embraced you. Select the one that best suits your needs and prepare to have a great higher-education experience.

In the context of college admissions, it all goes back to what my mother used to tell me: things tend to work out for the best.

Yes, indeed; there is life after rejection.


Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

More on Applying to College

See all
typing at computer- karolina-grabowska-6958506-resized

Authentic Voice in College Essays

That’s why you want to use your authentic voice when writing any college essay.

So what’s the problem? A student has shared an ess…


College Interview Prep Tips: Brainstorm, Research, Analyze, Generalize

I recently visited Washington University in Saint Louis and was lucky enough to set up an interview. By speaking with peers of mi…

campus gates

Academic Index Scores: Why They Matter and How They're Calculated

Note: Click here for 10 Summer Programs You Can Still Apply For or keep reading to learn more about academic index scores.

8 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

7 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

Podcasts can offer a wealth of information to busy students, particularly when it comes to the college admissions process. We…


Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time

Decision Day occurs each year on May 1st and is the deadline for students to inform the college of their choice of their intent t…

Get a student loan that goes beyond tuition.

Ascent offers cosigned and non-cosigned student loans with exclusive benefits that set students up for success.

Explore Now!
Find Your Scholarship

Want to find money for school that doesn’t need to be paid back? Access insights and advice on how to search and apply for scholarships!

Search for Scholarship