TeenLife Blog

Supporting teen success, one post at a time

What to Do When Your First-Choice College Doesn't Work Out

Posted by

Considering second-choice school

The college admissions offers have all arrived but, sadly, your student’s dream school was a no. Or perhaps, the first-choice school came through, but the financial aid didn’t. It looks like it’s time to re-evaluate the colleges lower down on their application list.

Of course, deciding to attend a college that wasn’t a top choice might initially seem like letdown. However, with the right mindset you can transform this disappointment into a higher education triumph.

Reconsidering Second-choice Schools

As you begin to reconsider your options, remind yourself of these five realities to keep positive and maximize your chances of finding the right collegiate match:

1. Attending a college you can’t afford is a bad financial start.

Students and parents have been known to take out huge student loans to pay for a college that didn’t offer financial aid. But entering college with debt sets a bad precedent. Taking out too many loans to finance a college education is a poor financial choice: Large amounts of student loan debt will mean your student has fewer choices in life upon graduation. Attending a school that offers more financial aid -- even if it was the second (or even third or fourth) choice -- can give your student more financial flexibility to follow their career dreams.

2. You can now take a deeper look.

Your student has the luxury of knowing they have been accepted. This fact gives them an opportunity to take a deeper look at the college. College choices are often made based on peer pressure, parent pressure and prestige. After all the hype and stress of applying have subsided it’s easier to sit down and look at the choices that were made in a more objective light. The pressure of applying is now gone and all you need to do is thoughtfully evaluate those colleges that have offered admission. A chance to make a calmer assessment might help your student discover a better fit.

3. Another look could unearth a hidden gem.

When preparing the college list, little time is spent investigating the lesser choices. Even though some colleges made the list, they are often considered less desirable. But now is the time to remember that those schools made the list for a reason. So take a closer look at those that have offered admission. Compare offers, visit their campuses again, talk to current students and be open to discovery. You never know what you might unearth in the process.

4. These colleges want your student

Why would you want to go to a college that doesn’t want you? There are colleges that actually want your student to attend—the college has offered them admission and maybe even wants them so badly that they offered generous financial aid awards that mean free money. Along with the aid, they might offer an honors program with perks. All these incentives are offered because they see your student as a valuable asset to their college community. Who doesn’t want to be wanted?

5. Your student could fall in love.

My daughter’s dream college offered her admission but did not offer any financial aid. No financial aid was a deal-breaker for us; she knew she would have to take a closer look at the colleges further down her list. To her surprise she fell in love with another college and never regretted not attending her dream college. Her experience isn’t uncommon. College students across the board say they ended up falling in love with their second and even third choice school.

Of course, choosing a college can be an emotional process. When those rejections and disappointing financial aid awards first roll in, it can feel like all your future plans have been upended. But if you and your student just adjust your thinking a bit and put in a little more legwork, a satisfying college career is ahead.