In an ideal world, you'll have started your college search early, created a list with a good mix of favorite and safety schools, and gotten a college acceptance — if not to your first choice, at least to a school that you're still excited about. Sure, it might not have a film co-op or 24/7 organic salad bar, but you'll be able to deal, and most importantly, get a great education at a price you can afford.
Now let's back up a step or two. Say you didn't start early…and didn't create a list. Although counselors advise against it, a number of students still apply to only one college, perhaps assuming they'll get in and not wanting to deal with the extra paperwork. Best case scenario, you do get in, and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. But what if you don't?
Dealing with the admission decision
It can be a shock to get a rejection letter instead of a college admission letter, especially when you know you're qualified. Competition for college admission has grown, due in large part to things like the increased emphasis on higher education and the simple fact that there are more people going to college. This often affects the process in ways you might not expect. In other words, what you think is a less competitive school may be harder to get in to than you realize. At any rate, it makes sense to be prepared.
Pursuing another college acceptance
If you're reading this soon enough, this situation can be avoided if you start filling out those "second-choice" applications right away. It may involve a weekend or two ditching friends and coming up with another admission essay, but in the long run, it'll be worth it. By giving yourself options, you'll have a better shot of getting an offer from a school you'll be happy to call your own, first choice or not.
If you're reading this after most application deadlines have passed and an admissions decision has been made at many schools, don't panic. Although approaching safety-school applications late in the game (or after the game) will limit your options, it doesn't leave you without options.
Consider a two-year school
You might consider starting your education at a two-year school. Maybe it's not what you expected, but it has some advantages. Sure, it's different. You'll likely live at home and attend classes with some of the people from your high school, at least if you attend a local two-year institution.
The bright side? First off, you can save a lot of money. Some states, such as New Jersey, even offer qualified students free tuition for two years at a community college. Another advantage is that most two-year colleges have arrangements with state schools, and will allow you to transfer as a junior when you're done.
The late and rolling-admission factor
Also check out schools that offer late or rolling admission decision deadlines. Schools with rolling-admission policies continue to accept and review applications and send out those college admission letters until they've filled all their available spots.
In some cases, this type of policy is applied after the regular admission deadline, and only if there are open spots. (If this applies to a school that you're interested in, call the admission office and find out if they're still taking applications. There's no sense filling one out that no one will look at.)
Other schools use a rolling-admission policy year-round. The best thing about it, if you're applying late, is that it can give you a shot at finding a school after the bell. Again, you'll likely have to disappear for a day or two filling out apps, but it can definitely pay off.
The ideal college planning process involves just that: planning. But things happen to affect your college acceptance, and whatever you do, don't get discouraged. There are tons of options. If you commit to finding a solution, it may take a little work, but you'll be happily enrolled before you know it.