7 Steps to Take When a University Rejects You

Depending on the type of program you are applying to, the competition for college or university entry can be fierce, and rejections are common, for whatever reason.

It helps to know what concrete steps you can take to address any shortfall in your application and keep the hopes of getting accepted by your school of choice alive – rather than throwing in the towel just yet.

This post hopes to provide you with suggestions of what to do when a college rejects you if you apply for a professional degree or otherwise.

These steps are geared towards study programs that require the submission of a design portfolio. But even if a portfolio is not a necessity in your college application, the gist of these suggestions can still apply – if you find them useful, why not!

Most college programs will need the submission of an application form and academic transcripts.

But other design-related fields, such as architecture, interior design, and graphics design, would require an electronic copy of the portfolio and personal statement in addition to those standard application documents.

More significantly, a design portfolio is not merely another piece of paper you print off a Word document. It takes days or weeks to put together and polish to impress, and when your application gets rejected, it can be gut-wrenching.

But, not to worry, there are some practical things you can do. No, not ways to heal yourself emotionally – that does not help your current situation (you’ll have time for that later) – but concrete actions you can and must take immediately.

As soon as you receive news of the rejection, these are what you can do:

what to do when a university rejects you

Step 1: Ask for feedback from the college/university

In a way, this is asking that you do not take NO for an answer, at least not yet.

A college or university application, much like any work of art, should be treated as a work in progress – you continue to polish and improve it so your subsequent applications have a better chance of success.

Get in touch with the admissions evaluator – phone, email, or in-person. Use whatever method is available to achieve your goal. You’d want to speak with the person who reviews your application and (particularly) your portfolio, not the front office staff.

Relay your sincere intention to understand the inadequacy in your application or the areas you could improve.

(Submit an appeal if that avenue is available to you. But it rarely helps if your application documents remain unchanged.)

Also, ask how much time you have before the school finalizes their intake for the new semester. Commit to the evaluator when an improved version of your application and portfolio (or any other supporting document) are forthcoming.

Choose your next course of action depending on which of these two scenarios applies to you:

  • Students’ intake is closing soon or has closed, and a re-submission makes no sense time-wise – proceed to Step 2 or Step 3, followed by Steps 5 and 7.
  • You still have sufficient time to re-submit your application – proceed to Step 4 and onwards.

Step 2: Arrange to meet with the evaluator in person (if the distance is not an issue), or Step 3 below

Treat this as an in-person interview. Bring along a copy of all your application documents.

Be prepared for questions on the portfolio you submitted. Most of all, take the opportunity to convince the evaluator that you have a strong desire to excel and a commitment to contribute to your field of study.

If you have additional pieces for the portfolio or supporting documentation that was not in the original application, bring them with you.

Step 3: A live video call

A large number of college applicants are either out-of-state or international students.

Arrange for a video call at the convenience of the evaluator. Similar to Step 2, be prepared and handle the call as you would an interview.

Step 4: Polish your portfolio or supporting documents based on the feedback

With the knowledge of the areas where you fell short, add, edit, or improve the portfolio to the best of your ability in the limited time that you have.

This post on things to include in a portfolio for architecture school can hopefully provide you some ideas on where yours might be lacking (for architecture and other design-related programs).

Step 5: Re-write and submit your revised personal statement

A personal statement is often necessary for college and university applications today. It carries a significance similar to that of a letter of recommendation but different; this is from you.

Your personal statement represents you – your aspiration, goals, and voice – in the absence of an in-person interview.

Ditch those standard templates you found online for free. The templates may be well-written, but you must personalize them to suit your situation.

If the program you are applying for does not require a personal statement, write a letter instead.

Step 6: Re-submit your application and portfolio

Re-submitting your application containing all your revised documents in-person at the admissions office is best.

Include a short but legible hand-written note on the submission. Avoid using your regular ballpoint pen; use a bold marker.

If submitting a physical copy is out of the question, you will have to settle for emailing the PDF version instead. Request for confirmation that they received it.

Step 7: Follow-up

A follow-up phone call a couple of days later is necessary.

Check that the school is reviewing your revised application if you haven’t already received a response from the admissions office.

Assuming that you have not yet applied to other schools outside your first choice, use your application document set version 2, and submit to those other schools you have shortlisted.

As much as you love your first choice, it will be wise to submit applications to other schools simultaneously.

Don’t wait for one door to close (fully) before you open another. Most schools have similar semester commencement time, so you do not want to miss the boat.


A degree program takes 3, 4, or 5 years and it is a long time to live through feeling that perhaps you could have tried harder for your school of choice.

Remember, if and when you get a rejection, and especially if it is from a school that matters to you, you have to exhaust all possibilities before deciding to throw in the towel and switch focus.

At least then you know you have tried your best, and you can sleep well at night.

If you fail to get into any of the schools you applied to, it can be sad and demoralizing, and it is OK to allow yourself those emotions.

It is a painful experience for any aspiring student, but it is not the end of the road. Talk to family members, close friends, or your high school counselor.

Then sit down, examine, and plan your next move. Improve what you need to improve and have another crack at it the next intake.

Or perhaps, there is another academic route you could explore?

If you are great at design, interior design and industrial design are excellent alternatives you may find creative satisfaction in.

If you are genuinely passionate about your career of choice, rejections are just another obstacle to overcome in the path of achieving your dreams.