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The One Word You Need to Know If You’ve Just Been Deferred or Denied by a College

My favorite word in the English language is "pivot." Those who know me understand why. I am constantly making adjustments in my career, business ventures, and parenting approach. I have come to realize and appreciate that sometimes things don't work out the way I planned. Yet the results of my pivot are oftentimes more transformative to me and those around me. In fact, I see failures, delays, and challenges as motivation for something greater.

Here's the thing. I don't own the rights to the word "pivot." You can like it too. If you do, though, you'd better make me proud and not only make the pivot, but embrace it. I am talking directly to high school seniors, especially those who just got deferred or denied from their Early Action or Early Decision college. This is not the end; this is just the beginning. How you respond to this admissions decision can set the tone for your future.

As I write this I'm on a plane to Los Angeles for a jam-packed 48 hours of meetings, meet and greets, and mammoth moments. If nothing comes out of this trip, I know I'll be fine. I can pivot, put my sights on something else, and crush it. It's taken me a long time to recognize this. High school seniors, don't wait as long I did. Seize this moment and run with it—even as you wipe the tears from your eyes or gather up what little dignity you feel you have left from this process. Tears let you move on and dignity returns the moment you begin to pivot. The wondrous thing about applying to college or any major experience in your life that may not work out exactly as planned is that you have the power to embrace the pivot and set your sights on something else. 

For high school seniors who might be feeling discouraged, here is advice on how to pivot no matter what decision you received over the past few days or weeks.


Your application is still in the running. Yet, shifting your mindset from immediate gratification to letting things unfold naturally without the pressures of the early round allows you to take advantage of time. Time to enhance the rest of your applications that you still need to submit. Time to work on a follow-up letter to that deferred college. And time to make sure that the early choice was really the best choice overall or just the best choice at the time.

"Deferred? Take advantage of the time this decision has afforded you." TWEET THIS

Some friends and classmates might know where they are enrolling in the fall. However, getting deferred is a checkpoint. Is that early choice really the best fit? If I don’t get admitted there, what other colleges on my list are possibly a better fit for me? When you answer those questions honestly, you will be pleasantly surprised by some unexpected discoveries.


While one door closes, many more will open. This is the time to look over your college list and get acquainted (or reacquainted) with the rest of your colleges—those you have already applied to and those that you still need to submit an application to. If you are truly not feeling a connection to any of these schools, it’s not too late to add a few more colleges to the list. A denial provides closure and allows you to focus on colleges that might have been overshadowed. Give yourself time over winter break and into the New Year to revisit those colleges, either with an actual visit or with a virtual visit on their website to find hidden opportunities waiting for you which might just be even more influential to your future than what was offered at that other college.


It is never too late to add a few more colleges to the list, change directions in terms of majors/programs, or even decide you want the opposite type of college than what you initially pursued. Many deadlines are still weeks (or even months) away. Most students change their major multiple times in college, and some change their minds mid-application process. If you have evidence to back up your change of direction, update the college and let them know what program you want to be considered for before you get locked into something you no longer want to do. And sometimes you need to experience a college as a full-time student before you truly know it’s the right fit. If it’s not, the transfer option is available in some cases after one semester, but more commonly after two.

The difference between you and your old self—or the pre-pivot self—is that you understand how a slight move in one direction can offer a clear path to something totally unexpected. It’s that clear path that has always excited me, even in the face of disappointment.

I have had a lot of practice pivoting over the years. (Chuckle, chuckle.) My doubters might relish in my failure. But the more practice I get pivoting, the bigger the rewards become for me and my reach. I can thank all of my once-described failures as motivation. I needed them to remind me to pivot to something even better than my original plan. So do you. If I can pivot, you can too.