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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

What if you get denied to your dream university

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

UPDATE 12.15.20

This week we are going to talk about what to do if you don’t get into your “reach school” or dream school. Recent blogs have talked about the admissions process and the logistics of narrowing down the search and deciding which schools to apply to.

Students - you will have your own opinions on where the best schools are to apply for admissions. It's your job dream the big dreams and shoot for the stars and try to get into Harvard, MIT, UCLA, or whatever school is your dream to attend.

So what happens if you don’t get accepted?

We’ve covered the college search process and what options you have when choosing a university in the USA. Once you’ve done the research, there is still the task of picking which schools you are most likely to be admitted to or which schools you most want to attend.

What do I mean by “reach school”? A reach school is a school that you have researched and based off of the school profile, your chances of getting in may be uncertain because you fall below the typical student described in the profile.


This is Jose. Jose is from Georgia and is graduating from a public school near the city of Atlanta. Jose has a 3.5 cumulative GPA, a 1225 combined SAT score, and a decent resume that includes two years of varsity lacrosse, three years on the tennis team, and an active role in the Student Government Association throughout high school. Jose is graduating in the top 20% of his class, and he wants to apply to four schools. Here are the universities he wants to apply to and what a piece of their profile looks like (*2018 profiles used):

University of Georgia

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.97-4.21 (weighted)

  • 2018 average incoming SAT score – 1400

Georgia Southern University

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.36

  • 2018 average incoming SAT score - 1139

Emory University

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.78-3.99 (unweighted)

  • 2018 average incoming SAT – 1390-1540

Kennesaw State University

  • 2018 average incoming GPA – 3.32

  • 2018 average incoming SAT – 1154

Jose will likely have school counselors to help him decide which universities he has the best chance of getting into. Here is something to remember – the profile is just an average. Certainly those universities accepted students that are way below the scores listed on their profile. Those students may be stellar athletes, superb leaders in their community, or even wrote amazing essays about challenges they overcame throughout their lives. Just because you may not be above the profile statistics does not mean you shouldn’t apply to those schools. Remember that.

There are several factors that determine selecting the best schools to apply to for admissions:

Understand your profile or resume - your profile includes your high school grade point average, the rigor of your school, the rigor of your classes, plus your involvement in and outside of the school during secondary school
Look at the profile of the universities you are interested in - Universities publish a freshman profile each year that reveals average statistics for the entire incoming class. Things like GPA (grade point average), test scores, gender, and acceptance rate are often included in the school profile.
Lastly, you also have to take into considering what the university might be looking for that year, and often students do not have access to this information, even though it may impact how they admit students.
Example - a university has 40% male/60% female population. They may be more likely to admit a male with a lower GPA in order to increase the total male population for the upcoming year.

Admissions decisions can depend on any of these things listed above and can even go so far as to depend on the mood of the person reading your applicant file on a certain day. Crazy right?

I always recommend that students apply to 2-3 highly attainable universities. These are universities where they easily fit into the first year student profile, and they have a high probability of being admitted. I would then recommend for a student to apply to 1-2 reach schools. These are also referred to as “dream schools”. These are schools where the student really wants to attend, even if one part of their application is not as high as the school profile, or even if the school acceptance rate is quite low.

If I were advising Jose, I would advise him to apply to these four schools, with the University of Georgia and Emory University being his reach schools. I would even encourage him to apply to a couple more target schools, or schools that he is likely to get into because he matches or is above the average profile. One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to students if they are still in high school is to spend the years of high school building the resume that you will use to apply to university.

Be intentional in the classes you take, the clubs and organizations you join, and the passions you pursue. High school is a time to learn, grow, and explore, and it’s also a time to set yourself up for success when you go through the university admissions process.

Being an international student can be challenging. Even students in the USA rely on their school counselors and other support to make the decision of where they want to apply to. Like I’ve said before, with over 4,000 options, it can be overwhelming trying to decide which schools are the best fit for you. But I always want students to dream big huge dreams and with hard work and determination, those reach schools can become very attainable by the time you’re putting in those applications.

So now that you’ve selected the schools to apply to, and you’ve waited anxiously for the decisions to come out in the spring, and you secretly (or maybe not secretly – maybe you’ve been wearing around a university sweatshirt for years with your dream school on it) know which school you want to go to…what happens if you don’t get in?

What happens if you don’t get into the school of your dreams?

Here are two things I firmly believe: Firstly, everything (and I mean every, single, little thing) happens for a reason; and two, you’ve meticulously chosen schools to apply to, and none of them (none), are bad options. If you’ve done your research, each of the schools offers the programs you are interested in, a campus vibe that fits your personality, and a location that you’re comfortable living in for four years.

Be confident in the schools you decided to apply to. Chances are excellent that you can be happy at another school, even if it’s not the dream school.

Other blogs you might like:

Until next time!

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