The official envelope is in the mailbox.

Your palms immediately turn clammy.

You open up the letter, scanning for the word “acceptance.”

Whether you find good news or bad news in the letter, you are in control of how you respond. How you respond to decisions tells colleges just as much about your maturity level as your whole application can.

What are the right ways and the wrong ways to react to college decisions?

    Accepted

    Good Responses

You’re understandably excited. There may even be jumping up and down—or a celebratory dinner.

But life doesn’t stop there. You need to start weighing your college choices and their financial packages.

You’ll probably get more than one acceptance if you followed our advice about building a balanced college list. Wait until you can review all of them before making a final choice.

Don’t forget to officially notify all the colleges about your decision before the deadlines.

Be excited but also be realistic about the best choice for your future.

You should visit your top choices again before making a final commitment.

    Bad Responses

You get so excited about the one acceptance from your dream school that you forget about everything else. You immediately accept the offer without pausing to analyze the pros and cons.

You crow about it on social media. You buy all their spirit wear and dorm decorations in school colors. You scoff at all the other colleges to which you applied and ignore their communications.

This type of over-the-top response fails to show balance and maturity.

Once you collect all your acceptances, you will need to make a polite response to all of them, not just your first choice.

    Waitlisted

    Good Responses

You feel optimistic that a college you wanted to attend also wants you to attend. They are making you a reasonable offer based on how many applications they had.

You should choose whether you want to remain on the waitlist. This could be influenced by their terms in their letter or by your own research into how many people came off of the waitlist last year.

If you don’t want to stay on the waitlist, let the college know.

If you desire to stay on the waitlist, let the college know that too. Send the colleges updated information that shows your commitment, including any achievements that will give your application a boost.

Visit the college again if you can. Also, continue to plan on other schools.

On a waitlist, you just have to wait.

    Bad Responses

Bad Option #1: You act like you’re accepted.

Treating the waitlisted response like an acceptance could be setting yourself up for serious disappointment. Especially if you are waitlisted at one of your top choice schools, acting like you’ve been accepted before you actually are could be really damaging.

The worst possible thing to do is turn down your other offers. Pinning all your hopes on a maybe is risky and unreasonable.

Bad Option #2: You act like you’re rejected.

Your instinctive reaction might be to decline. Being on the waitlist makes you feel undesired, and you decide you don’t want to attend that school based on an emotional response.

Instead, have some hope. The college liked your application well enough to tell you they want you to attend school there.

Review all of your options before turning the school down. There isn’t any harm in waiting, either. You might be getting an acceptance in a few weeks.

    Rejected

    Good Responses

You’re hurt and disappointed. That’s completely understandable.

You might need to take a little time to heal and adjust your expectations.

You should remember that college admissions isn’t about your worth as a student. A lot of factors go into college choices, and a rejection isn’t a reflection of your abilities.

After receiving a rejection, evaluate the options available to you. You likely have great colleges to choose from.

    Bad Responses

When you get a rejection, you decide that college isn’t worth it and you give up.

You’re too focused on your disappointment to think about your choices. Other acceptances are tainted because the one university didn’t “want” you.

This is not a healthy or positive way to act. Being realistic—or better yet, choosing optimism—is the best way to handle a college decision that you don’t like.

If you need to apply to a few more colleges, work quickly.

If you find that you can’t overcome your disappointment or sadness, it may be time to reach out to a counselor or other professional who can help you evaluate your options. Getting another perspective is always helpful.

 

A wonderful college experience is waiting for you. You just have to find where that experience will happen.