Nearing the end of your senior year in high school without firm academic prospects can be a setback, but it doesn’t mean your dreams of going to college are over.

If you’re not accepted into any of the colleges you applied to, it’s important to know that you have backup options. Here is what you can do to plan for the future.

1. Apply to a Community College

If you are determined to attend school in the fall, use a community college as your next step. The majority have rolling admission, so you can apply at any time. Marguerite Lane, the Assistant Vice Principal for Enrollment Management at Molloy College, says, “Attending a community college can give students the foundational courses that will help them to succeed at four-year institutions. Many students who were not prepared to enter a four-year institution directly from high school achieve great success after completing at least one year of coursework at a community college. They can then apply to other colleges and universities as a transfer student.” A bonus to this is that you’ll save money on school since community colleges are typically less expensive than universities—just make sure your credits will transfer when you move to a four-year school.

2. Consider Taking a Gap Year

If you feel like you need some time before starting college, a gap year can be a great option for you. You can take a year off to travel or work before reapplying to college. Anthony DeMartinis, former school counselor and current assistant principal at Wellington C. Mepham High School, says a gap year is “meant to broaden a young person’s perspective on the value of school and what their ultimate career and life goals may be.” If you want to do this, DeMartinis strongly advises developing a plan instead of just going with the flow. “Students who take the gap-year approach should have a plan as to how they will occupy that time and how they will apply the lessons learned for moving forward,” he says. 

Gaining industry experience could help a student stand out. It would also add additional information to write about on the application essay.

3. Find a Job That Enhances Your Application

If you’re considering taking a gap year and you also have an idea of what you want to major in, you should look for a job or internship in the field that interests you. Dan Loughran, principal of Career and Technical Education at Western Suffolk BOCES in New York, says, “Gaining industry experience could help a student stand out. It would also add additional information to write about on the application essay.” Even a temporary position could increase your chances of getting into college when you reapply.


4. Look Into Trade Schools

It can be easy to forget that a traditional university isn’t the only schooling option out there. If you have a particular hobby or skill you’re interested in, do some research on trade schools. DeMartinis says, “There is a need for apprentices in trades such as electrical work, carpentry, and plumbing.” A trade school offers a lot of hands-on experience and a clear path to a career. 

5. Wait Until You Can Reapply

If there’s a school you’re determined to attend, you don’t have to give up just yet. You can reapply when you’re able to, although that might require some patience. Just because you were declined once doesn’t mean you’ll be declined again, especially if you add to your résumé before then. “If students are determined to enroll in a specific program, they should keep trying,” says Loughran, adding that one student he knew applied three times before being accepted at a very selective program at a school within the State University of New York system.” 

Not getting accepted to any of the colleges you applied to can be a stressful situation, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up on going to college. Take some time to consider your options and talk to your college counselor so you can keep moving toward your college goals.

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