Some more hints on what to do if you don’t get accepted to your school of choice

By Ashleigh Viveiros

In Douglas Adams' sci-fi classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there are just two words a hitchhiker needs to know when travelling the universe: Don't Panic!

The same holds true for those high school students preparing to embark on post-secondary education, especially when the university or college letter you get in the mail begins with: "We're sorry to inform you that you were not accepted . . ."

Hey, it happens. But it doesn't mean you should give up hope and assume you'll be spending the next year flipping burgers at Micky D's.

"It's not the end of the world," says Irene Schmidt, a guidance counsellor at Garden Valley Collegiate in Winkler, Manitoba. "That should be a learning moment: ‘I didn't get in. Okay, what didn't I know?'"

There are a number of different routes you can take when you find out you've been rejected, says Schmidt.

First, even though summer is well underway, keep in mind that there are still programs and schools out there looking for students - all you have to do is find them.

"Try and get in somewhere else," says Schmidt. "If there are spaces available, (most schools) take students right up to the bitter end - right up to the beginning of classes."

"(Students) can phone the universities and colleges. They can e-mail them," she says. "If they really want to study, they should be able to find something."

But if you really had your heart set on a specific program at a certain university, your next option is to look for a "back-door" into that program, says Schmidt.

"There's more than one way to get in," she says.

For example, you might have failed to get into a very competitive program on your first try - say, education or engineering. Instead of just giving up, why not reapply for a more general program at the school - like arts - and pick up some first-year credits there, before reapplying next year? That way you show you can handle a university workload, maybe increase your grades to a more acceptable level, and demonstrate dedication to your goal.

"If you can get accepted at the university, you can probably get in (to your program) later," says Schmidt.

Or you could try to get into a similar program at a different school, and then transfer in to your preferred school at a later date.

A final option might be to actually take the year off, reassess your goals, and work towards making yourself a more attractive applicant for next year, says Schmidt.

If your high school grades weren't up to snuff, spend the year improving them. You don't have to retake all your high school courses, but raising your marks in a few - and ultimately increasing your average - could make all the difference when you reapply.

"It says a lot of positive things about you," says Schmidt.

You could also spend the year building up your portfolio or résumé by volunteering in your desired field and getting related work experience.

For example, if you want to be a writer, but didn't get into the program because of a lackluster portfolio, you should spend the year writing - volunteer to write newsletters for organizations in your community, submit articles to the local newspaper - anything to gain experience.

And, of course, you can also use the time to earn enough money for tuition - just don't fall into the common trap of getting too comfortable working, says Schmidt.

"I warn students about the danger of getting comfortable with a paycheck," she says. "Then it's really hard to think about going back to school."

In the end, there's always a way to reach your goal, says Schmidt. Sometimes it just takes a more roundabout route than you might have expected. Just think of every rejection as a learning experience.

"(Rejection) teaches you about the world of university and about the competitive entrance requirements," she says. "That's good - now you know something about the world you didn't know before. Now you can prepare yourself."

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Modified on April 23, 2009