Conquering the Fear of Rejection

Jeffrey Hirsch is a high school counselor in Westchester and owner of College Starter, a college counseling practice. He lives in Croton and can be reached at

Each year, as my high school juniors step onto the proverbial diving board and prepare to launch headfirst into their college admissions process, something invariably stops them from taking the plunge: Fear! 

They are convinced that they will be the one student in their school that gets denied by everywhere they apply. So, during our first sit-down, before getting into those big conversations about what type of college interests them, Fear needs to be put to rest. 

There is a great misconception (a myth, really) that it is difficult to get into college. At the risk of sounding flippant, it’s not.  

In fact, out of approximately 4,000 colleges in the United States, most of the nearly 2,000 two-year community colleges are open enrollment, meaning all a student needs to get in is to simply apply. Another 500+ four-year colleges have selectivity rates of 75%-100%.  

The first thing I tell student — the one sitting in front of me with a pained half-smile on her face — is that she will get into college. Multiple colleges. Guaranteed.  

Then I explain how we can ensure that by creating a balanced list of eight to 10 schools that fit both her wants and needs. The ideal list should consist of four to six Target schools, two Reaches and two Likelies.  

Creating a college list takes thoughtfulness and diligence. Students should involve their parent/guardian, accept input from their counselor, and be sure that their final list includes the three above-mentioned categories 

Students, hear me out. The important thing to remember is that colleges are as interested in you as you are in them.

Although the process can feel completely one-sided, I assure you that colleges are looking for unique, thoughtful, civic-minded, enthusiastic learners who can bring diverse personalities, thought-provoking ideas, advocacy, and a sense of empowerment to their campus. They are looking for you!  

The 1-2-3 Guide to ‘Congratulations!’ 

College Starter-Shutterstock

By following the simple blueprint below, the student will end up with multiple colleges to choose from once the acceptance letters have finished arriving … 

  1. Stay focused by setting and meeting checkpoint goals. For instance, “Complete final copy of the college essay by August 30.” Students who keep pace with their goals will stay ahead of the process, keep deadlines at bay, greatly reduce stress, and ultimately produce stronger application packages. 
  2. Stay within yourself. If a student’s dream school is Vanderbilt University and they have a 2.0 GPA, my strong advice is to take a pass, not a chance. Your time is better spent finding colleges that are the right fit and align with your transcript. 
  3. Love your Likely! If your dream school is the University of Michigan, but it is a Reach, go for it! However, work hard to find that same – or similar – love for a couple of Likely options.

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About the Author: Jeffrey Hirsch