If You Got Rejected by Almost Every College

College Rejection, College Reject, Rejected by Colleges
If students are unhappy with their college results, they should strongly consider reapplying with a different approach as transfer applicants.

Originally Published on May 25, 2019:

Did almost all the colleges you applied to this past year reject you? During the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, students applied to more colleges than ever before — likely because they were anxiously stuck at home due to the pandemic. Yet it’s a trend that continued during the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 admissions cycles: students are continuing to set records for the number of college applications they submit.

Suppose you’re a student who applied to many universities and received rejections from most of them. In this case, we encourage you to avoid reading a piece published a few years back by Kwame Anthony Appiah in The New York Times Magazine about a string of college rejections.

Because if you read this piece, you’ll read a lot of mumbo-jumbo about how getting rejected by every college you apply to isn’t a reflection of your character or self-worth. No kidding! Instead, as the author asserts, it reflects grades, scores, a rigged college admissions process, and, well, you get the idea.

Now don’t get us wrong: we understand the importance of grieving. We realize that getting rejected from the vast majority of colleges you applied to can be devastating. But advice like making the most of the rejections at the state school you happened to get into isn’t exactly going to turn that frown upside-down.

Some Feel College Rejection Teaches Important Life Lessons

Appiah writes in his piece on college rejection, “The goal, therefore, isn’t to be the best; it’s to do your best. And don’t think this lets you off the hook. To become a better version of yourself is quite demanding enough.”

He goes on, “The 18th-century Hasidic rabbi Zusha is supposed to have said that when he died and appeared before the heavenly court, they could ask him, ‘Why were you not as great as Abraham?’ and he wouldn’t be afraid; after all, he wasn’t given Abraham’s intellectual gifts. They could ask him, ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ and he wouldn’t be afraid; he didn’t have Moses’ skills as a leader. The question that frightened him was this: ‘Why weren’t you Zusha?’ The scholar Martin Buber, writing in the past century, called this the ‘question of questions.’”

Getting Rejected from Almost Every College Is Avoidable

We at Ivy Coach don’t know what Rabbi Zusha would say. But we know there are some proactive things you can do after receiving word of your college rejections to improve your case for admission as a transfer applicant.

It starts with Ivy Coach’s PostMortem application review in which we let you know what went wrong in every component of your applications. We do it not so that you kick yourself. There’s no sense in being a Monday morning quarterback. Instead, we do it so that you don’t make the same mistakes again — because you’ll realize that much of what you did wrong is easily correctible. 

You might be upset right after the PostMortem, but, in our experience, you’ll get over it the next day and follow our advice over the next year to give yourself a much better shot at getting into your dream schools as a transfer applicant. Because this next time, with Ivy Coach’s help, you’ll submit applications that wow.

We suspect that even Rabbi Zusha would encourage you not to internalize your rejection but to instead be proactive about putting yourself in a better position for next year’s transfer admissions process.


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  • Leo Gordon says:

    Three Thin Envelopes

    On a warm spring afternoon many years ago, in a small New England town, I sat eagerly anticipating my acceptance into one of three colleges.

    I knew that the letters of acceptance had been mailed the previous week.

    My father and I were discussing my choices. They were reasonable choices for a student who had done very well in high school.

    I was told by the high school guidance counselor that I had chosen three schools that would most assuredly accept me.

    One school was a top tier Ivy, the other two were well-respected colleges that had accepted many previous graduates from my high school.

    Having been graduated fourth out of about five hundred students, I felt confident that I would be going off to one of those three colleges in the fall.

    My father knew the post-master of the city. It was a small town. Everyone knew everyone.

    Dad said: “Maybe Mel can allow us to get the letters today before mail delivery tomorrow.”

    We drove down to the post office.

    Mel handed me three thin envelopes.

    Three rejection letters weighed heavily on an eighteen-year-old who had academically excelled in high school.

    There was not a name for it then, but I must have suffered an acute reactive depression.

    My across the board rejections were the central topic of conversation in my hometown for several months.

    Over time, my family learned that some other students who had lived in a different socio-economic cohort of influence had been accepted to each of my three college choices.

    These individuals did not have the academic achievements, test scores or recommendations that I had. But they had wealth and influence – two entities with which my family was unfamiliar.

    Three thin envelopes – three categorical rejections.

    But life has a funny way of leading you down a different path.

    I went on to college, then on to medical school, then on to a residency then on to medical practice.

    My life path has been the road not taken because of three thin envelopes.

    I tell all of the high school seniors who got the thin envelope (or whatever the current catch-phrase is for an e-mail of rejection) in the past few weeks to take heart.

    In the face of the influence of wealth, bribes, deception and violations of the basic tenet of academic honesty and achievement – you played by the rules while others did not. Take heart in that fact.

    There is no shame in rejection if the game was rigged and you did not know it.

    You will go on to college.

    You will realize that education is always self-directed regardless of the formal institution in which you are enrolled.

    You will create your own network and you will succeed.

    Rejection – as hard and disappointing as it is – is the greatest life lesson.

    Easy to say many years after the fact, but those three thin envelopes placed in my hand on a warm spring New England Sunday were the most valuable letters I have ever received.

    Leo A. Gordon, MD
    Los Angeles, California

    A son of New England, schooled in the Midwest with medical education in Chicago and surgical training in Boston, Leo Gordon, MD is a physician in Los Angeles.

  • Jason Cohen says:

    I just looked up to see where Dr. Gordon attended college and he is the only one in his practice whom does not list it- nor is it listed on the American Medical Association’s website. Obviously the good doctor has done fine for himself- and done so in a very admirable career- but I wonder if he wasn’t proud of where he attended? Someone I know was valedictorian of her graduating class and was rejected almost everywhere and ended up at her safety, unhappy yet determined. But that unhappiness did not last long. She worked hard that first year and repackaged herself – touting her accomplishments than neither she nor her school guidance counselors did the first go around. The very next year she transferred to an Ivy with an acceptance rate of under 3%. She could not have been happier with her decision. So, what they say is true- you can repackage yourself and win the second time around!

  • Darren Sheffield says:

    Dr. Gordon, with all due respect, that is hogwash. I got into a school I never should have and my family was not wealthy at all. We also received great financial aid. It may be comforting to feel there was some dark force against you, but most likely your application underwhelmed the admissions committee. In fact, at least 1/2 of all students at the Ivies are on financial aid, and some are of very modest means. The Ivies have NOT been just for the wealthy and connected for at least 70 years and, believe me you, when you were a student in College X, there were many students in your same economic situation attending Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. I think telling kids they did not get into a certain school was because they are not a celebrity and/or bribed someone, is giving them false comfort and no hope to attend a college of their choice. How many celebrities and super wealthy/well connected people are there anyway in the world? Very few. Clearly that nonsense excuse is neither beneficial nor true.

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