Rejected from your dream college? You’re in excellent company

You can be happy wherever you wind up.
You can be happy wherever you wind up.
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Over the next few days, many thousands of American high school seniors will receive what may feel like the most important news of their lifetime.

Through early decision, a lucky few will be attending the college of their dreams next fall. The vast majority must adjust their expectations—at elite colleges DukePenn and Brown, for example, 18% of the early-decision applicant pool received a “yes” this week. Over at Harvard, it was just 13.4%.

If you’re one of many students who may not be headed to your dream school—or their parent—now is not the time to despair. That’s the advice of CNN host Jake Tapper, who tweeted out a few words of wisdom today (Dec. 14) to those grappling with sudden rejection.

Many others chimed in, with their own stories of how a second- or even third-choice school turned out be a fabulous option. (The list comprises an Emmy winner, a key Obama administration staff member, a high-flying Republican diplomat and the president of the Center for American Progress, among others.) But if their words aren’t convincing enough, consider a few other greats who were rejected from their preferred school—and whether it really held them back.

Warren Buffett

The multi-billionaire Berkshire Hathaway CEO and rich-lister was rejected from Harvard Business School, instead attending Columbia Business School. Later, he said, he realized it had been the “best thing that ever happened to me.”

Tina Fey

30 Rock creator, actor and comedian Tina Fey might have wound up on quite a different path if her application to Princeton had been successful. “My mom had had this dream ever since I was a baby, for some reason she wanted me to apply to go to Princeton,” she said. “I was a good student, but I didn’t have any of that private school polish. I went in there and I was like ‘Hi, what’s up?’ and they were just like ‘No, no…'”

Instead, she wound up at at the (also excellent) University of Virginia, where she studied drama and took her first steps toward stardom.

Barack Obama

The 44th US president attended Occidental College, later transferring to Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1983. Long before that, however, he applied to Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania and was not granted a place. Their rejection, he said later, “really broke my heart.”

J. K. Rowling

The novelist applied to the University of Oxford to read French and was rejected after the entrance exams, instead studying French and Classics at Britain’s Exeter University. (The Oxford rejection letter was just one among many Rowling received early in her career.)

Steven Spielberg

The American filmmaker and Oscar winner applied to both the University of Southern California and UCLA repeatedly but was lackluster grades meant he never got in the door. Instead, he enrolled at Cal State Long Beach—though dropped out ahead of his graduation after being offered a seven-year directing contract by Universal Studios.