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I Didn’t Get Into My Dream School...What’s Next?

by Jenna Ranney, Content Manager

We all know that it’s dangerous to set your heart on one school too early, because the college application process is long and confusing and nothing is guaranteed. Still, some of us fall into the trap of The Dream School; I certainly did. When you’ve got comparable grades and scores to not only their previous accepted classes but your peers who got in as well, who can blame you for getting your hopes up? Falling in love with a school too soon can be scary, and devastating if they don’t choose you too. Here’s how to avoid diving in too far, and how to move forward if you do.

Do: consider other schools. Now, we all know that you need a minimum of 2-3 schools when applying, since you never want to end up high and dry if your only option falls through. But it’s important to do more than simply apply to additional schools; you need to really consider attending. Even though you may not initially like it as much as your #1, it’s key to look into other options, talk to people you may know who go there, and all-around just try to picture yourself at that school. Don’t write off another school simply because it’s not your first choice; you might find a really great opportunity in the most unexpected place!

Don’t: plan too far ahead. While it’s important to aim high, be confident in your abilities, and go into the college applications process with a positive outlook, you need to be careful not to get too far ahead of yourself. No matter how set you are on going to a certain school or how confident you are that you can get in, don’t structure your plans for the future around the assumption that you will go to a specific school until you’re in. Hoping to attend a certain school is one thing, but planning on being somewhere before you’ve been accepted is another. It’ll be problematic to commit to any plans under the assumption that you attend a certain school or live in a certain area before you know that’s the case. But even on a smaller scale, it can be heartbreaking to start picturing your college life in one specific way - at one university or in one city - and then end up forced to restructure all your ideas about the future. Even if the school you do end up at is great and you end up loving it, having to change all your ideas can still be a let-down

Do: look at the whole school. This applies to both your dream school and your other options. With your top choice, it’s crucial to look into every aspect of the college or university in question and be entirely honest with yourself about the parts that are not-so-perfect. If you get in, you'll be better prepared to handle the challenging aspects of your school - cost, location, academic rigor, etc. If not, you’ll be able to see the bright side of all the flaws you avoided! When looking at other options, weighing your other choices in comparison to your top school can help you see the advantages of some other schools; even if you still prefer your dream college, you’ll be able to see how another university could benefit you in some ways that Option #1 can’t.

Don’t: get discouraged. Perhaps the hardest part of the college application process is finding out that your top choice isn’t really an option anymore. Whether the cost was too high, the scholarship too little, or they simply didn’t accept your application, it’s tough to let a dream school go. The main focus at this point is not letting yourself be discouraged - far easier said than done, believe me. Your worth is not defined by one application board; you are still a brilliant student and a strong candidate, even if one school couldn’t see it. You can and will still have a fantastic college experience, even - and sometimes especially - if you’re not quite where you thought you’d be. Be open to new options, and try not to let the school you’re leaving behind take away from the great options still ahead of you. Don’t give up, and don’t let one decision define you!

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your dream school is certainly not the only school for you, and it honestly might not even be the best. I’m sure I would’ve been happy at my dream school, and I would’ve saved myself a lot of self-doubts and a serious blow to my confidence if I’d been accepted. With time and hindsight on my side, though, I’m really happy to be where I am. Getting waitlisted from one school forced me to look at other options, and I ended up switching gears to a slightly different course of study that brought me towards a great career. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m “where I’m supposed to be,” because I think your college experience will be what you make it and you can be happy at any number of schools, but I’m definitely much happier with where I am and where I’m going! No school is perfect, but I promise you that there are always options out there. It’s never too late to start looking at new options, and you will find a school where you can shine!


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