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Rise above rejection - how to get around a denial from your top choice school

By Ashleigh Viveiros

It's May, and suddenly it hits you: "Hey, I'd like to go to university or college this fall."

Or maybe you already knew that months ago, but just had your hopes of a post-secondary education seemingly crushed after receiving a rejection letter from your school or program of choice.

So what's a wannabe post-secondary student to do as the clock ticks down to the new school year? Fire up the computer, pick up the phone, and get to work.

Whether you've been rejected from a school or just recently decided to continue your education, there is one important fact about post-secondary institutions you need to know: most schools accept students throughout the summer for spaces in a variety of programs.

Now, those spaces may not be at the school or in the program you originally had your heart set on attending, but they do provide a way to take the first steps into your post-secondary future.

For example, let's say you just realized you want to be a teacher. Obviously, by now you've likely missed the entry deadlines for education programs in most schools, but that doesn't mean you have to spend the next few months twiddling your thumbs until it's time to apply for next year.

Instead, why not apply for a more general program that takes in tons of students each year and likely still has room for more - bachelor programs in the arts or sciences, for example.

That way, you can spend the year getting all the general first-year courses everyone has to take out of the way (English, science, etc.) and maybe also finish off one or two education-related courses as well.

Then, when it comes time to apply for the education program again next year, you'll make a much more attractive applicant - having shown you can handle the university workload and already having taken some relevant courses - than some fresh-faced kid straight out of high school.

Similarly, if you were rejected from a highly-competitive program based mainly on the fact that there just wasn't enough room for everyone who applied, then it might also be a good idea for you to take this back-door route - apply for a less competitive program at the same school and then try to worm your way into your first-choice next year, armed with a beefier application.

On the other hand, if you would rather jump right into a specific academic stream - rather than taking a year to do general courses - then you might want to consider applying for a similar program at another school entirely. If your grades are good enough – and if there's space - you might still be able to get in. And, if you still have your heart set on attending the school that rejected you in the first place, you can always try to transfer in there next year.

Now, how do you go about finding out which schools and programs are still accepting applications? Some schools post their program vacancies right up on their Web sites - basically advertising the fact that they need and want students for next year. You could also simply call the various schools to ask if they still have room for students in any given program.

Some provinces make it even easier for students. In Ontario, for example, you can use the Admission Information Service from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre (www.ouac.on.ca), which keeps track of the universities that still have space in their various undergraduate programs.

Updated by the schools regularly, this service allows you to search by school or program keyword. A quick search will also reveal the minimum GPA requirements for a program, so you'll know right off the bat if you have a chance of making the cut.

Speaking of making the cut, for those of you who received rejection letters not so long ago, there are a few other things you need to keep in mind as you search for alternative post-secondary paths.

While the above advice works great if you were rejected mainly because of a lack of space in a given program or school, it won't do much good if you were rejected because of poor grades or a sub-par portfolio.

In that case, unless you do manage to find a different program or school with lower standards, you might have to consider returning to high school next year to better your GPA. Similarly, if you were rejected from a highly selective program - for example, a graphic arts course - because your portfolio wasn't up to snuff, you might need to spend the year improving it by working or volunteering in the field.

Regardless of why you were rejected, though, there are a couple of other things you should double-check when reading over the rejection letter.

First, does the letter indicate that you're on a waiting list? If so, how long is the list, and what's the likelihood of you getting in should someone else drop out (are you first on the list, or last)? Also, does the wait list carry over to the next intake session, or do you need to reapply?

Secondly, some schools will offer you alternatives to the program you were rejected from. This matches right in with all the stuff mentioned above, so don't just ignore these alternative options - take the time to research them and figure out if they could be a good route to get you to where you ultimately want to be.

In the end, just keep that old saying in mind: where there's a will, there's a way. It might mean backtracking a bit (returning to high school, say) or taking a more roundabout route than you expected, but, if you're willing to make the effort, you can find a way to get the education you need for the career you want.

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