My Dream School Rejected Me – Now What?

Confession time: As much as I love the University of Illinois, my first choice school was actually Yale.The college application process is hard, and doesn't always have the ending you want. But your dream school rejecting you isn't the end of your future - or even your dream.

Yes, that Yale.

I really thought I’d make it in (despite an acceptance rate that hovers around 7%), and I feel like I had good reason to. They sent me enough letters and pamphlets to wallpaper a room. I got a hundred-page viewbook full of information and pictures of the campus cloaked in the glorious deckings of fall. I felt so special – wined and dined (through mail and email) by my dream school, I was sure that the fall of my freshman year would take me to New Haven, Connecticut, to study with great minds. And then Yale promptly dumped me when I applied.

A lot of people offered a lot of explanations, but the why wasn’t important when I was reading “unfortunately, we cannot offer you a place” because that was supposed to be my place. I was supposed to go to Yale and be exceptional. I won’t say the whole world came crashing down, it was more of an internal crash. All the faith and confidence in myself that had led me to apply in the first place now seemed suspicious. I’d thought I was good enough, but Yale didn’t – and they were professionals at knowing who was worth time.

Truth is, getting rejected from your dream school? It sucks. And people are going to try and convince you that it won’t happen, but it does happen sometimes, and you have to pick up the pieces and move forward.

My Dream School Rejected Me – Now What?

“Keep moving forward” is a cliche but it’s true.

1. If you’re still in the application process, apply to a lot of schools. Despite being (apparently) noteworthy enough to be teased by Ivies, I applied to five schools and was only accepted to one. Have safety schools for your safety schools, is what I’m saying. And maybe safety schools for those. Schools accept applications for longer than you think. If you’re feeling unsure (or, god forbid, only applied to one school) start looking for late-application accepting institutions, just in case. (As in, open a new tab and do that right now.).

2. If you’ve got a dream school in mind, you’re probably holding yourself to an individual standard, but don’t judge other schools too harshly just because they’re not your dream. Schools with “less prestige” are often underrated, and if nothing else, you have an even better opportunity to distinguish yourself and do well at a school that’s not as challenging for you – which could help a lot if you look to apply elsewhere next year.

3. Transferring in college is actually normal, so don’t be afraid to spend a year at your safety and then apply again next year. Get involved at your school, put your heart and soul into your grades, distinguish yourself somehow, and show your dream school exactly what they passed up on – hopefully, they won’t make the same mistake twice. Also, a lot of times, transfer students can get scholarships that students who spend all four years at the school can’t, so you might save some money.

4. I was sure I’d be miserable at Illinois, but I learned that you might just fall in love with your second choice school. I was accepted into an awesome honors program, joined a fantastic choir, met my academic idol, and got nominated to leadership on a debate team, all within my freshman year. I made a place for myself and fit in, even though I couldn’t see it at first. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to grow where you’re planted, in ways you could never imagine before.

5. If you absolutely can’t stand the idea of going to another school for a year, look into taking a gap year. No, it’s not just about backpacking across Europe to “find yourself”. And if you’re worried, people don’t actually care about age in college, unless that age is 21 – no one will think poorly of you for being a year older than the rest of your class.

6. Okay, bonus tip time. Whatever you do, don’t let a rejection letter define you.You are capable and brilliant. You can and will achieve your goals, even if you don’t do it at the school you initially thought you would.

Losing your dream school is like losing your first love – heartbreaking, but you heal. Now, I wouldn’t transfer to Yale if they paid me. Not because they’re not a fine academic institution, or even because I’m bitter. It’s because when I walk across the quad of my school, with my fight song playing on the bell tower and every third person wearing orange, I feel like I’m at home. I feel like I belong. And I feel confident and capable in myself and my abilities, even if two years ago a rejection letter made me feel like I wasn’t. Getting rejected by your dream school isn’t fun, but it takes you in a new direction and leads you to a new adventure – so keep your head up and your dreams higher. You’ll be just fine.

Did you get into your dream school? I feel like no one’s life has actually gone “according to plan” – what are some unexpected turns your life has taken?


  • I’m so sorry about your dream school, but if you end up at U of I, I’m sure you’ll find your place here. It’s big, but that means it has a little of everything. If you have any questions at all, let me know! I’m happy to help!

  • Mattie Nelson

    I know this is a really old post, but somehow I found this and really relate! I got deferred from my top choice school a few weeks ago but am now considering attending the University of Illinois, somewhere I never really imagined myself at first. Your blog has been really helpful for me especially because I’m a future English major too!

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