I’m a Top Student. Why Did I Get Rejected by Colleges?

Gwen Hornaday
Gwen Hornaday

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Maybe you were rejected from all your target schools, and are now going to one of your safety schools. Or perhaps you decided not to attend any of the places you were admitted. Now you’re stuck wondering, “What went wrong? Why did I get rejected by these colleges?” If you’re a top student and you didn’t get into your dream schools, this can be a difficult time.

You’ve been told since the beginning of school that good grades means good colleges. So you’ve worked tirelessly the past four years to make that happen. It’s been over a month since decision day and many students may not be happy with their results from this year’s college admissions. The college admissions landscape is always a confusing and often frustrating one, with decisions that don’t make sense.

Here are a few things that may make it easier to understand your results:

Schools look at a number of things aside from GPA and academic performance.

While your academics may have been enough to get your application in the right pile, college admissions officers review all aspects of your application. That includes essays, extracurriculars, leadership experience, and anything that makes you stand out with qualities like innovation and grit. With so many students with high GPAs, admissions officers need differentiators like these.

You may want to look over your application with a college counselor to see where your application could have been used more to your advantage. Essays are often where students struggle because they offer an opportunity to write anything, which can be a daunting task. This is also why they tend to be one of the most important parts of your application.

College admissions is always a gamble. Though you may be a top student, there are many more factors that go into a college admissions decision than this, and considering these “intangibles” is important. 

You may have been applying to a very competitive or impacted major.

If you applied to a school through a popular major like computer science or to a specific school within the university (e.g., the business school), the rate of admissions may have been even narrower. No matter how impressive your academics, the college admissions officers may have been looking for something different; be it a stellar essay or an innovative experience on your resume. If a large number of students applied to your major, it may have simply been a game of chance to be selected as one of the admitted applicants.

If this sounds like you, understand that you might have done everything right and just didn’t end up in the right pile. Luckily, you already know what you are interested in, so you will have an easier time focusing on things you can do now. Whether that be reaching out to professors at the school you are attending for research opportunities, or finding clubs and organizations you may want to join, stay focused. If you are not attending a school this fall, look for an internship this summer in your field or take community college classes to make you more competitive.

You might need to reconsider the assumptions you had going into the college admissions process.

A lot of students go into the college admissions process dead set on going to an Ivy League or Top 20 school. However, it is important to be realistic and have a backup plan. Additionally, it will helpful to know that there are other good schools that still provide incredible opportunities for success after graduation. If, for example, you applied exclusively to Ivy League schools, you did not allow yourself a backup plan; there is always likely chance you would not be accepted, considering the low admission rates. Acceptance at an Ivy League school, by and large, should never be considered a foregone conclusion.

It is absolutely imperative that every student has realistic safety, target, and reach schools. That way, no matter the results, you set yourself up for success. Also, it’s important to understand prestige isn’t everything. It can open certain doors in the future, but what really matters at the end of the day is what you do at the school you attend. Employers mostly care about your skills and your experience, not whether you went to Harvard or a state school.

In the end…

There is so much that happens in the college admissions process that is out of the hands of the applicant. For instance, maybe it was a bad day for the admissions officer who happened to look over your application; departmental budget cuts; or just bad luck. Go easy on yourself and don’t take it as a sign that you are not good enough; only you can decide that. You still have the ability to be successful with the right guidance and focus. 

Now, what to do.

If you are stuck without a school to attend in the fall, you still have options. You can take a gap year to volunteer, work, get an internship, or travel; any of these activities can help you gain some unique experience to take into next year’s college admissions. You can also consider taking classes at a community college and transferring into a 4 year institution later.

If your are attending your safety school (or just not your dream school), try to focus on the positive. It’s okay to be sad about your college admissions results. Then, finding ways to be excited about the school you are attending can make it easier. Do some more research on your school, the clubs, academic offerings, or anything that might be of interest to you. You might find something special that you never even knew the school offered. You also have the option to transfer to another school after your first year. Make sure the credits from the school you are attending now are transferable; especially, transferable to the school or schools you would be applying to for sophomore year.

Whatever you decide to do, there are always opportunities to grow and gain experience and skills to lend to your success in the future. And most of them do not depend on one month in your senior year. 

Questions? Let us know!