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How to deal with rejection when applying to uni: students’ tips

If your top-choice university rejects you, it can be a real kick in the gut – how do you possibly bounce back? Four student vloggers tackle just that question...

Whether you’re still waiting on your university offers to come in, you’ve already learned that your number one university has said no, or you don’t get the grades you need come results day, we've plucked out some wise words from new podcast The Wooden Spoon, hosted by four university students who've taken pretty different paths. 

In their first episode, they discuss university rejections – very appropriate! Here are five key lessons we learnt...

How to handle rejection from a university: students’ tips

1. It doesn’t mean The End 

While it might feel like your life has hit a titanic roadblock if you don’t get the uni offer or exam results you wanted, it’s so important to remember that this is one small stumble in the grand scheme of things. 

‘Failure is so subjective,’ law graduate Eve comments. And it’s true. ‘You’ve got your whole life ahead of you…’ is something you may hear a lot – again, very true!

You might be surprised to learn that many of your heroes used failure as a stepping stone to greater things. For example, the Wooden Spoon gang name-drop JK Rowling, Oprah Winfrey and Lily Allen for overcoming rejection and turning their supposed weaknesses into their biggest strengths.

Tip! Do some digging into the early careers and lives of your favourite singer or athlete. You may find comfort and be inspired by the hardships they faced (and overcame).

Meanwhile, if you don't get the uni offers you wanted, learn how you can get a second chance via Ucas Extra from February, or Ucas Clearing from July.

Looking for a Plan B? Search for university courses the easy way  see how students rated a course, graduate stats and more.

Alternatively, learn about degree apprenticeships: a fee-free alternative with applications running all year round.

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    2. Don’t let one failure define you

    Student vlogger Jack suggests that there’s a difference between failing to meet a goal you set yourself and failing to meet one set by someone else.

    This could be an entry requirement set by a university or an exam grade from a teacher.

    While academic grades and getting into uni are important, it’s healthy to have a mix of interests, hobbies and ambitions going on in your life that aren’t necessarily related to these academic pursuits.

    Sure, there will be occasions when you need to prioritise revision or set aside time to work on your personal statement. But it’s always worth having separate things to turn to when you need a break – they can be excellent for your mental health and wellbeing.

    Tip! Feeling low because you didn’t get a uni offer or the grades you were banking on? Throw yourself into an activity that reminds you of your other talents or interests. 

    That way you can still enjoy that sweet sense of satisfaction, whether it’s beating your personal best on a park run, building a website, or raising money for a cause you’re passionate about.

    Check out our revision advice, including A* student study tips and what to do if you fail your exams.


    Watch now: How I survived results day: Jack’s story
     

    3. Talking it out can help (even if it’s not easy)

    Hearing that you’ve missed out on grades or a uni offer is one thing, but telling other people the news can be a whole other ordeal. 

    On the podcast, Jade shares her experience of unsuccessfully applying to Oxford, in particular how telling others ‘made it feel real’ and was ‘the first opportunity to deal with it’.

    You may hear people say they 'feel numb’ upon getting major news (whether good or bad): students opening exam results, Oscar winners hearing their name announced, hearing that a family member has died… 

    Significant moments like this can take a while to sink in. Actually forming the words and saying them out loud can make it all feel real for the first time, so don’t be surprised if it’s at this moment that it all hits home.

    But as Jade recounts, telling others about her rejection over and over actually helped her deal with it (eventually). ‘Time helped. Time gives you closure.’

    Tip! If you’re going in to collect your results on results day, don’t feel pressured to open them with others. Instead, take them home to open with family, or on your own – whatever works for you.

    If it’s bad news, telling others via WhatsApp or similar can feel less direct than doing it face to face (at least until you’ve had time to process it all). 

    Alternatively, ask a close friend or family member to explain the situation to others for you so you don’t have to do the legwork of talking about it immediately.

    Applying to Oxbridge? Check out our full advice, including interview tips and popular myths debunked...


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    4. Don’t feel like you need to share everything

    While we all tend to overshare on social media from time to time, your road to uni might be one of those moments where you can learn to hold back a bit. 

    When applying to university or waiting for results, you might want to keep your cards close to the chest. Making everything public to hundreds of friends and followers can put unnecessary pressure on yourself that you don’t need.

    Those who really need to know (your family, best mates) will find out eventually.

    Similarly, seeing others post their good news can make you feel worse (especially since this is often the majority of people’s social media feeds), and like you’re the only one going through the same thing – the chances are you’re not!

    Tip! You don’t have to delete your Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook altogether. Consider setting yourself daily limits for social media apps, unfollowing accounts, uninstalling apps or hiding notifications temporarily. 

    How to stay safe online: tips to protect your privacy, staying safe on social media and more.

    5. Learn from your failures

    While it’s always nice to hear about the things we’re good at, recognising our weaknesses is the first step to self-improvement (again, it’s easier said than done).

    Ruby highlights the ‘power of reflection’ in the podcast and recognising that we can’t be good at everything (or at least not straight away). 

    Doing the same thing over and over again – especially when you have proof it’s not getting the job done – won’t get you anywhere. That’s why mock exams and past papers exist, for instance: to help you gauge what study tips are working and what needs work. 

    Even if the results aren’t quite apparent right now, being seen to be actively trying to develop and grow is an admirable quality in its own right, and will reflect well on you. People will be more likely to take the time to help you if they’re confident their advice isn't going to fall on deaf ears. You may hear sports coaches praising athletes for being ‘coachable’. That sort of attitude can go a long way.

    Tip! If you decide to take a gap year and reapply to a university a year later, try to get some feedback to your application so you can build on your skills and knowledge in that time. This can make all the difference in your second stab at a personal statement, while an admissions tutor might remember you for this when your name pops up again.

    The same goes when applying for a job. If you’re unsuccessful, ask for any feedback or notes they’ve made about you so you’re not repeating mistakes in future applications.

    Check out our guide to your first CV or cover letter, as well as preparing for job interviews.

    Listen to the full episode, 'Sorry, your application was unsuccessful: Rejection, failure and university' The Wooden Spoon is available on iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher.

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