If you’re among those who didn’t get in at their dream colleges, take heart: you’ve just joined an elite club that includes Tina Fey (rejected from Princeton), Steven Spielberg (rejected from USC School of Cinema Arts twice), former Secretary of State John Kerry (rejected from Harvard), former President Barack Obama (rejected from Swarthmore), author Isaac Asimov (rejected from Columbia), former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (rejected from Princeton), and billionaire Warren Buffet (rejected from Harvard).

The key is to process the rejection and move on with grit and determination. Keep reading to find out how you can turn disappointment into success.

Recognize that you are not defined by the college you attend.

If your future plans hinged on attending one particular school, it can feel like your world came crashing down when you found out that you didn’t get in. But here’s a secret: If you’re smart and driven, your alma mater won’t define your success—and there’s research to prove it. As former Google data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz wrote in his 2017 book Everybody Lies, multiple studies have shown that the link between career success and attending an elite college is one of correlation rather than causation. In other words, people who succeed do so because they possess traits like intelligence and work ethic, traits that elite schools seek, not because they attended elite schools.

Rejection from an elite college isn’t a mark against you.

The nation’s top-ranked schools turn away tens of thousands of incredibly talented applicants each year: Harvard could fill its freshman class twice over with valedictorians. If you’re among the 95% of applicants who didn’t get accepted at a super selective college, it’s not about you. It’s about the fact that these colleges are trying to hand-pick a relatively tiny number of specific students out of a massive pool of impressive applicants. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough—it means the school wasn’t able to pick you.

Take a second look at the schools that DID admit you.

If you followed our advice and included some target and safety schools in your applications, then you should have some college acceptance offers to consider. These schools might not be The Dream School, but they likely have some really great points in their favor (including, for example, the fact that you’ve already been admitted). Don’t compare these schools to The Dream School—that school is off the table. Instead, look at these schools with a fresh eye. If possible, revisit the campuses. The campuses will likely look different if you know a spot at the school is yours for the taking.

It’s not too late to submit some more applications.

If none of the schools you were admitted to appeal—or worse, if you didn’t include safety schools in your applications and now you’re facing a marked lack of college acceptances—never fear: there are still great schools that you can apply to.

These schools are all ranked in the top 100 national universities and practice rolling admissions (so the deadline is flexible):

  • Purdue University—West Lafayette (ranked 56th)
  • Rutgers University—New Brunswick (ranked 56th)
  • Penn State University—University Park (ranked 59th)
  • University of Pittsburgh (ranked 70th)
  • University of Minnesota—Twin Cities (ranked 76th)
  • Binghamton University—SUNY (ranked 80th)
  • Michigan State University (ranked 85th)
  • Indiana University—Bloomington (ranked 89th)
  • Loyola University Chicago (ranked 89th)
  • University at Buffalo—SUNY (ranked 89th)

Other colleges have late application deadlines. Here’s a partial list:

College Application Deadline
Washington and Jefferson 3/1
Georgia State University 3/1
California State University: Bakersfield 3/1
Monmouth University 3/1
SUNY Albany 3/1
Agnes Scott College 3/15
SUNY New Paltz 4/1
Clemson University 5/1
Illinois State University 5/1
California State Polytechnic University: Pomona 5/1
Georgia Southern University 5/1
Virginia State University 5/1
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice 5/31
Auburn University 6/1


Each May, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) publishes a list of colleges with open applications, so if it’s super late in the game and you need some more colleges to apply to, check out their website.