Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. ACCEPTANCE.

The cycle of mourning may be new to teens who’ve likely not experienced much disappointment in life, but those whose Plan A for college is thwarted by rejection from their first choice college will need to embark on the cycle and move through it quickly. With many decisions already in hand and the rest coming by April 1st, it doesn’t leave much time before May 1st deposits are due. Once you’ve reached the acceptance stage, you need to dig deep to come up with PLAN B.

Denial – Not Possible

All over college discussion boards, you’ll find students in shock and awe that they didn’t make the cut. They had the grades, the scores, and a superior resume.

“Why me?” they cry.

The truth is that for the most selective schools, no one is a shoo-in. As an independent college counselor, I’ve never looked a student in the eye and said an Ivy or other highly selective school is a safety school. A student who got in last year can easily not get accepted the next year. It’s all about the demographic of the applicant pool­– which changes with each admission cycle. So go ahead and get angry, but move on quickly as there’s not much time.

Bargaining – The Wait List

If you were offered space on the Wait List, remember there’s a reason we commonly refer to it as purgatory. It’s not necessarily a good place to be, so carefully assessing whether you should take your chance is important. Perhaps moving on is best even though it means letting go of your dream school. Regardless, you’ll still need to forge ahead due to the most likely outcome that you will not receive a spot at the school of your dreams. Statistics vary greatly year-to-year for who gets off the list, but overall the prospects are dismal.

Find Common Ground  

Why was it your dream school? Prestige usually tops the list. What commonality does the dream school have with others where you were accepted? Perhaps letting go of prestige will surface something more important. It may not feel like it at the moment when you are depressed about the school’s decision, but you must dig deeper to find your Plan B.

Cost, major, or location– it’s possible the details of schools visited long ago have waned. Jump back in and visit them virtually then, if necessary, in-person.

Starting Over

With over 90% of college freshman saying they are ultimately satisfied and happy with where they land for college, and only 57% of students enrolling in their first-choice school, it’s unlikely you’ll feel like nothing measures up. However, this does happen on occasion and when it does you’ll be starting all over coming up with Plan B.

Each May, the National Association of College Admission Counseling releases their annual list of schools that still have space. In 2013, there were 210 4-year colleges on the list. Perhaps one of these will fit. If so, you’ll need to quickly apply. If not, some students opt to stay close to home and enroll in a community college with the idea of transferring after a year or two. Remember, it is unlikely that the school who previously rejected you would want you later as a transfer, however, this could buy you time to find other great fit schools where transferring is a possibility.

Take a Break

If none of the school options are feeling right, then taking a gap year is not out of the question. This is a popular first-choice approach in Europe and a trend growing exponentially in the United States. Parents may fear delaying college will result in never embarking on the journey; statistically this is not usually the case. There are many approaches to creating a meaningful gap year. Travel abroad, intern, work, volunteer, or work towards personal growth. Regardless, it’s not a vacation.

For colleges to look favorably on your time off, do something with meaning that speaks to your passions. Record your journey with journals, pictures, a blog or vlog. Don’t forget you’ll also need to merge the pursuits of the gap year with time to restart the college search, application, and financial aid process. This can be challenging to manage and further complicated if you choose to travel abroad and don’t have easy Internet access.

Although it’s tempting to lick your wounds while your friends celebrate, there simply is no time to do so. Move to acceptance quickly then evaluate your options for a flourishing Plan B. You might just find your best fit yet.