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    When Your Top Choice Turns You Down

    How to get past your disappointment and find the right place for you.

    Ruth Senter

    When Your Top Choice Turns You DownIf there were an example of a perfect college application, Andrea had it: She ranked near the top of her class, scored high on the SAT and ACT, and won tons of scholarships. She was really involved in school and community activities, and her teachers wrote great recommendation letters for her. It looked like she would get into any college she applied to. Then the bomb dropped. She received a rejection letter—one of those cold, to-the-point form letters that began: "Dear Ms. Hamilton. We regret to inform you..." and ended with "but you will be happy to know you are on our waiting list."

    Andrea was not happy to know she was on the waiting list. She thought she had everything it took to get into that school. She'd followed the application procedure down to the last punctuation mark. Andrea had filled out applications to other colleges, but was so sure of getting in to her top choice that she hadn't even sent them.

    As Andrea tried to absorb the impact of her rejection letter, she felt like she was staring into a black hole. She was the closest to despair she has probably ever come.

    But she knew that she had two choices: She could wallow in her bad news and mope around, or she could sit down at her laptop and get in touch with some other colleges to let them know she was still interested in them. That's what she did. And there really were several colleges waiting to admit her.

    What If It Happens to You?

    What if you find yourself like Andrea: staring at a sheet of college letterhead and reading that you have not been accepted? At first, you'll probably be angry at the school. "That's not fair! I met all their requirements, and they still rejected me." You might be tempted to speculate about the reasons you were rejected: "I'll bet some alumni kid with lower test scores got in ahead of me." "Someone probably misread my test scores or got my transcripts mixed up with somebody else's."

    You might even feel angry at yourself: "I didn't start early enough." "I didn't retake the SAT." These are normal responses to rejection. But if you stay stuck in anger and self-pity, you're headed for despair or bitterness.

    The truth is, you will never figure out who is to blame, so you might as well stop trying. A better alternative is to take the route Andrea took: keep moving, but just change directions. Allow yourself to feel the pain and disappointment, but then take positive steps to get beyond it.

    Begin Again!

    Start fresh by making a mental switch. Pull out your files for your number two and three college picks. If you have not visited their campuses, do so soon. Start picturing yourself on another campus.

    You have probably already thought about the benefits of your top choices. (It's a good idea to think about this as you apply to schools—don't wait to get your acceptance or rejection letters!) If you have made a list of what College Two and Three have to offer, pull that list out and note all the good points you can find in each. If you haven't made a list like this, now's the time to do so. When you focus on the positives of other schools, you'll probably be surprised at how much they have to offer.

    The Friendship Factor

    "But all my friends are going to the college I didn't get into," you say.

    At first, this may be a big source of disappointment. But eventually, you might find some advantages to going to a school where you don't know anyone (and no one knows you). Don't worry about losing your friends just because you're at different colleges.

    Instead of looking at your disappointment as something that will keep you from old friends, look at it as something that will lead you to new friends, new experiences and new opportunities. When you are accepted at a particular school, get the name, address and phone number of your new roommates or suitemates. Or e-mail the admissions department for the name and phone number of someone from your area who will be attending your school. If possible, try to meet for coffee or dinner beforehand. Having someone you already know when you arrive on campus can help ease you through the newness.

    Think Positive

    When it comes to adjusting to the thought of another college, avoid the temptation to think of your school and your college experience as second best: "I'm only going to this school because I couldn't get into the other one. This school is second-rate. I'm second-rate."

    You need to keep the big picture in mind by continually looking for ways your school is just right for you. And avoid the comparison trap. If you're constantly thinking about what might have been, you'll end up dissatisfied. You'll never be happy comparing reality to what's in your imagination.

    No one plans on disappointment. But the person who will be successful is the one who gets past the disappointment, moves on and makes new plans. That's true when it comes to choosing a college; it's also true for choices you'll make for the rest of your life.