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Waiting for College Acceptance Letters

It’s been quite a year. Only last summer you were looking at colleges on the Internet, exploring catalogues in the guidance office and maybe even doing a grand tour of the colleges you thought you might want to attend. You took the SATs, maybe two or three times. You wrote the essay. You filled out forms. You collected recommendations. You put it all in the mailbox months ago.

It’s been a waiting game ever since. Will the college you really want accept you? Will you get enough financial aid? What if the only school that is excited about you is the one you weren’t very excited about? Maybe friends have started getting envelopes thick and thin and the only school you’ve heard from is the “safety school” you applied to last minute. Talk about stress . . .

Here are some things to think about while you wait.

Getting into your first choice is not as important as you think. Schools spend millions advertising their uniqueness, their specialness, their wonderfulness. After all, they have to fill the freshman class and they have to justify the considerable expense of going there. Remember that you (or maybe your parents) decided to make school X or Y your first choice. There were probably hundreds of schools you didn’t even know about or seriously consider. Maybe one of them would have been your top choice if you had. The point is that a “top choice” is partly a reasonable response to good information, partly a reaction to how it “felt” on the day you visited, partly a function of what schools you investigated. You can rethink it.

What if you do get into your top choice top school? Yes, it is some validation for your hard work and intelligence if you are accepted to one of the most competitive schools in the country. But now it’s up to you to decide if you really want to accept the acceptance. After celebrating, take a big step back and let yourself be choosy. Do you still think this is the school for you? Can you afford it? If so, great! Go for it!

What if you get into your second or third or tenth choice? It’s very important to remember that there are excellent teachers everywhere. There are opportunities wherever you decide to go. It’s what you do with what is available is what counts. When acceptances come in, take a new look at all your choices. As flattering as it might have been to be chosen by the school you thought was your number one, you chose the others you applied to for good reasons too. Go back and take a new look at their web sites. Each school has unique qualities. Remind yourself why you applied and what you would get from being there that maybe you would not have found at even your first choice. Focus on what is there rather than what isn’t and you’ll make a good choice.

Just because you get in doesn’t mean you have to go. The fat envelope arrived. It’s an acceptance! But in the meantime, you’ve rethought a number of things. Maybe you don’t want to go so far away (or stay as near) as you thought back in November. Maybe you want to wait a year and do something besides go to school. Maybe you’d like to get some work experience or money in your bank account. Part of making a mature decision may be deciding to wait. Acceptance isn’t fate. It’s an option to consider.

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Rejection from a college is not the end of the world. Yes, the information about who got accepted and who got rejected goes through the high school like wildfire. And there are always the competitive types who will feel somehow superior because they lucked out and you didn’t. But rejection from a college, or even several colleges, is not the end of the world. The way you handle a rejection will have an influence on how others perceive you and how you feel about yourself. Although it may be hard to see it at first, sometimes having to alter a plan is a gift. Keep things in perspective and focus on what you want to do next.

Not getting into your first choice does not necessarily mean that you weren’t academically qualified. There are many reasons that a school may not accept you even if you have the grades, the good resume, and the desire to be there. Sometimes the school is balancing their freshman class by the region you come from, by expected major, or by needs of a team. You may fit the academic profile but you may not meet their needs for a diversified class. Often, it comes down to there only being so many slots with too many qualified students to take them all. At that point, the admissions staff had to make tough calls. Yes, you ended up in the rejected pile but not because you weren’t qualified.

Not getting into the school you wanted is not a judgment on your character. Schools get many more applications than they can accept. Many schools have done away with an interview as part of the admissions process. Admissions staff only know you through the paper in your file — which may or may not really represent who you are. If you know yourself to be a good person and a serious student, you don’t need to take a rejection personally.

Money really does matter. You’ve had your heart set on School X but you got a much better financial package from School Y or at least you think you did. Financial aid packages are confusing. It isn’t the total cost of the school that matters. It’s how much you and your family are expected to actually pay. Scholarships, grants, loans and work-study all make up the final financial picture.

Make sure you are making an accurate comparison among the schools that accepted you. Remember that loans may be part of the financial “aid” but they will have to be paid back. A work-study allowance may look great but if you’re someone who has trouble balancing work and school, maybe it’s not really helpful. A difference of “only” $3000 between two schools may not look like much when you are excited about the higher priced campus but that $3000 times 4 years is a $12,000 difference. Add the interest over the number of years it will take you to pay it back and it adds up fast. Will you really get a better education for that much more financial strain?

Keep it in perspective. Four years from now, all this stress about college admission will be a hazy memory. Whichever school accepts you, whichever school you choose, you will make friends, learn a great deal, explore opportunities and get yourself ready to launch into the world. College, whichever college gets to have you, is what you decide to make it. So relax. You have at least four years before you get to do this all over again — with either graduate school applications or the search for that first big job.

Waiting for College Acceptance Letters

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). Waiting for College Acceptance Letters. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.